Understanding the Biogeography of Marine Worms using Genetic Markers

Project start date: September 2001 - Project end date: September 2002
Project number: 2001-05
Beneficiary: Smithsonian Institution

Palolo Worms

The Nando Peretti Foundation is supporting work undertaken by Smithsonian scientists and their colleagues to study the geographic distribution of palolo worms. Palolo worms are found on corals reefs and in coralline algae around the globe. In some places they are sources of protein. In some locales, they all breed at one time, in a fantastic swarming over the back reef. This phenomenon is recognized and important to the local cultures.

How did the worms get from one island to another?

Smithsonian scientists are examining the relationships between populations of palolos around the world to understand issues of evolution and biogeography. Despite their enthusiastic spawning, the larval worms do not stay in the water for long, but settle down to the reef and start burrowing into the reef in less than two weeks from the spawning. The water currents among the islands are not strong enough to bring the larva from group of islands to the next. First the scientists need to know if worms from neighboring islands are more closely related to each other than they are to those from further away.

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