Current Research in the Invertebrate Zoology Section

Richard Heard has been associated with the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory for the past 40 years, except for brief periods working at the Skidaway Marine Institute in the early 70s and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in the mid-80s. During his tenure at GCRL, he and the members of his Invertebrate Zoology Section have authored or coauthored more than 230 taxonomic and ecological publications on marine invertebrates and fishes.

Dr. Maxwell Barson, on board R/V Tommy Munro
Dr. Richard Heard collecting mummichog, Fundulus heteroclitus, for parasitological examination in the Plum Island marshes of Northeastern Massachussets.

Dr. Heard, and his colleagues and students have conducted ecological studies on sand beach, marine aquatic vegetation, and tidal marsh habitats and their respective faunas, including studies on the feeding habits of estuarine and marine fishes and marsh and shore birds. They have conducted research on the taxonomy and life cycles of metazoan and crustacean parasites and their possible roles as environmental indicators (e.g., trophic and migratory biological tags for their hosts) as well as ecological and feeding investigations of endangered species such as the gulf sturgeon and piping plover.

Publications resulting from these studies have addressed a variety of new estuarine and marine invertebrate taxa, the effects of hurricanes and oil spills on beach habitats of the northern Gulf of Mexico, the discovery of new parasite life cycles, and identification guides and keys to various invertebrate groups.  From the 1980s to the present,  Dr. Heard and the members of his group have been involved in the identification and description of invertebrates collected from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts of the southeastern United States.  These studies were conducted in conjunction with several large regional environmental assessments by the Bureau of Land Management Mineral Management Service, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Park Service.

Doctor Heard and his associates have investigated invertebrate faunas around the world, including the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic Oceans; the Arabian Sea; Antarctica; Mexico; Central America (Cost Rica); South America (Chile and Columbia); Bermuda, and the Caribbean Sea (Tobago, Turks and Caicos, and Cayman Islands). 

Presently, some of  Dr. Heard’s group are identifying  and documenting  the decapod crustaceans components of plankton samples collected from the northern Gulf of Mexico. They are also making taxonomic and systematic studies on malacostracan crustaceans, especially those belonging to the peracarid order Tanaidacea, from the southwestern Atlantic, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and French Polynesia.  Dr. Heard’s graduate students are currently conducting studies on the ecology of a tidal marsh killifish and on systematics, taxonomy, and life cycles of digenean parasites from tidal marsh, artisan spring, river, and lake habitats.

Thomas Fayton

Dr. Maxwell Barson, on board R/V Tommy Munro
Thomas Fayton and former student Zach Olsen in a spring on the Econfina River.  They were spearing catostomids (suckers) and subsequently dissecting the fish for monogeneans and digeneans.

In collaboration with Dr. Heard and  Dr. Robin Overstreet, Thomas Fayton, a doctoral student, is involved in studies on the taxonomy and life cycles of digenean parasites from artesian spring, river, lake, and tidal marsh habitats largely in eastern North America from invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Thomas’ dissertation research, which employs both classical and molecular systematic components, involves the study of the large and poorly known digenean genus, Plagioporus.  Thomas has presented his findings at two international and two regional parasitology meetings, and has won the best graduate student presentation for the past two consecutive years at the annual meeting of the Florida Association of Benthologists.  Recently, Thomas was invited to lecture student and faculty members of an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship from Brown University and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) on parasite life cycles occurring in low diversity marshes of New England. His lectures were based on research that he and Dr. Heard have been conducting for the past three years through MBL's Marshview Field Station in Newbury, Massachusetts.

Dr. Maxwell Barson, on board R/V Tommy Munro
Leah Gaines collecting Fundulus pulvereus at one of her sampling sites in a salt marsh in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Leah Gaines

Leah Gaines is conducting her master’s thesis research on the feeding, fecundity, and ecology of the Bayou Killifish, Fundulus pulvereus.  Though quite abundant in many northern Gulf tidal marsh habitats, Fundulus pulvereus has been poorly studied and very little to nothing has been published on its ecology, life history, and reproductive biology. The primary objectives of Leah's study are to determine seasonal and ontogenetic shifts in diet, assess feeding associations with tidal cycles, document fecundity and determine the primary spawning season, and document the endoparasites occurring in this fish host.

Dr. Jerry McLelland

Dr. Jerry McLelland, although retired, remains an import part of the Marine Invertebrate Zoology Group.  Jerry is an accomplished estuarine and marine zoologist who is a recognized authority on several invertebrate groups. In November 2013, Dr. McLelland will conduct a workshop on polychaete identification for the Florida Association of Benthologists.