Taxonomy of commercially important decapods


My postdoctoral fellowship with the FDA has shifted my focus from biodiversity to applied taxonomy. I am working to create a barcode reference library of commercially important taxa. In the process we have discovered a few species that present taxonomic problems ranging from the taxonomic history of a species to the potential existence of cryptic lineages. This work not only helps the FDA give consumers confidence they know what they are eating, but also furthers our knowledge of evolutionary relationships in decapod crustaceans. 

Barcoding Belize

I am just starting on a project aimed at barcoding marine life found inhabiting the waters around Carrie Bow Cay and Twin Cays, Belize. The first field expedition, lead by Dr. Seabird McKeon of the Smithsonian Marine Station in Ft. Pierce, FL, started this project off with 7 96-well plates worth of tissue samples ready for DNA extraction and barcoding. These barcodes will serve as the first official sequences in the Belize Biocode project. By sequencing every species we can, we will be able to investigate trophic networks and species interactions at a level of detail not previously attainable. 


Mithracidae is probably my favorite family of spider crabs, or at least it's the family that I've spent the most time working on. I find these crabs so interesting because they are so common in the shallow waters of both sides of the American continents, and yet so little is known about how they are related to each other. Many of the crabs in this family look so similar it's hard to tell them apart. This is an historical problem attributed to poorly described morphological characters and there have been multiple morphology-based taxonomic revisions at the generic level. We decided to try a new approach to the problem of relationships within Mithracidae by first inferring phylogenies from multiple molecular loci. Then we carefully examine multiple individuals of each species to find morphological characters shared between the genetically-defined groups. What we found is that morphological characters that have been overlooked before are strikingly different between these genetic groupings. This type of taxonomic re-assessment has been used successfully in the Mithrax hispidus species complex (Windsor & Felder, 2009) and has been expanded to the family level to include 22 genera and 23 species of mithracid crabs (Windsor & Felder, 2014). From here, I would like to expand my study of Mithracidae into larval development and DNA identification of juveniles. 



Having shown that DNA is a powerful tool that can be combined with morphology to revise the family Mithracidae, I have turned my focus to studying the phylogenetics and systematics of the superfamily Majoidea. The taxonomic history of Majoidea is incredibly convoluted and studies of morphology alone have not yet produced a natural classification of the superfamily.  By using phylogenies inferred from up to 5 molecular loci, we are able to take a new look at morphology by looking for characters that unify phylogenetically-linked genera. 

Hyastenus uncifer  from the Queensland Museum

Hyastenus uncifer from the Queensland Museum

Biodiversity in Indonesia

I have been involved in teaching Indonesian and American students about hidden diversity in the most bio-diverse coral reefs in the world. For the past three years, we have focused on the decapod crustaceans in habitant dead coral heads to teach students about crustaceans, biodiversity, ecological statistics, DNA extraction, data management, and the importance of museum collections. Most of this work is done in Bali, Indonesia, but I have also collected from Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia with three amazing students from Universitas Syiah Kuala 

Students from the 2013 class learning about plankton

Sampling on Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sampling on Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia