The more than 16,000 recognized species of annelid worms exhibit immense morphological diversity and include such distinct groups as fireworms, earthworms, bloodworms, and leeches. As sediment feeders, scavengers, and predators, annelids occupy terrestrial and aquatic habitats worldwide and are the most abundant fauna (larger than 1 millimeter) in the deep sea, Earth's most extensive habitat. Annelids have economic importance as bait, pests, invasive species (e.g., oyster borers) and ecosystem engineers. Nonetheless, many fundamental questions about annelids remain unresolved because knowledge of their diversity and evolutionary history is lacking. To fill this gap, this international project will assemble the annelid family tree using a large-scale, multi-tiered approach. The oldest relationships will be examined with high-throughput DNA genome sequencing techniques. Recent relationships will be resolved with multi-gene DNA approaches and a community-based sequencing service that will examine approximately 3000 species.
As one of the few segmented phyla, annelids are integral to understanding animal evolution. This project has significant interdisciplinary implications in fields such as developmental biology, paleontology, marine biology, physiology and evolution. Specimens, data, and educational resources will be publicly available. Extensive human resource development includes training more than 25 undergraduates, 5 graduate students and 4 postdoctoral researchers at four institutions, and recruitment of underrepresented groups. K-12 outreach will foster broad scientific participation.