A grant has been awarded to the Ohio State University Research Foundation under the direction of Dr. Marymegan Daly to study the systematics and evolution of a symbiosis between sea anemones and hermit crabs. The grant will improve the doctoral dissertation research of Luciana Gusmao. The association of sea anemones and hermit crabs is one of the most interesting and eye catching symbioses in the sea. The anemone-crab partnership is a mutualism in which anemones gain access to food and transport away from unfavorable local environmental conditions, in exchange for defending the crab from predators. This symbiosis has been studied extensively in terms of behavior and physiology, while the biodiversity and evolutionary components have received little or no attention. This study uses genetics, observations of behavior, and museum specimens in an integrated approach to understand the diversity and evolution of this group of hermit crab symbiotic anemones.
In addition to illuminating the evolutionary history of the sea anemone-hermit crab relationship, this research will generate detailed descriptions of symbiotic relationships, improved tools for the identification of these abundant marine invertebrates, and new collections of specimens and DNA samples. In the course of this project, a graduate student and a high school student will be trained in sea anemone biology and genetic techniques. Results from this work will be featured in both general and scientific publications, increasing public awareness about marine biodiversity and symbiosis.