Michael Dawson
Aquatic Symbiosis Genomics

Symbioses in 3D

Diversity and dynamics in pelagic symbioses across the tree of life

Project Lead/s

Anne Thompson (Portland State University)
Kelly Sutherland (University of Oregon)
Michael N. Dawson (University of California, Merced)

Project Summary

We are a global team of marine ecologists, evolutionary biologists, natural historians, and genomicists with a shared interest in how pelagic organisms survive and prosper in coastal and open oceans.  The lit and unlit pelagic zones present numerous physiological and biological challenges to which animals exhibit various adaptations.

These adaptations give pelagic fauna powerful ecosystem roles as predators and prey, capable of altering ecosystem structures. For some animals, symbiosis is a crucial adaptation to occupying this niche, with various biological implications including nutrition, communication, and development. However, much is still unknown about the role of symbiosis in the evolution, ecology, and biology of pelagic animals.

We will study four major lineages of pelagic animals (pyrosomes, medusozoans, ctenophores, acoels) and their symbionts (proteobacteria, zooxanthellae, flagellates, green algae). We will accelerate understanding of the eco-evolutionary assembly and disassembly of host-specific symbioses from a diverse pool of pelagic microbes, specificity and plasticity to changing environments, how symbioses influence ecosystem dynamics, and how these organisms inform evolution and development of metazoans, including bilaterians and vertebrates.