Benthic Ecology and Evolution lab

Dr. Easton’s Benthic Ecology and Evolution Lab at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley explores the biodiversity and evolution of marine benthos from the coast to the deep sea. Benthos are fauna that live in, on, or in association with the seafloor. We focus on the study of epibenthic megafauna on hard-bottom habitats and meiofauna of soft-bottom habitats. To study these benthic communities, we use a variety of tools to conduct biodiversity surveys; to explore biogeographic, community assemblage, and connectivity patterns; to identify potential drivers of these patterns; and to understand the phylogenetic and evolutionary relationships of select taxa. Of particular interest are the benthic communities of mesophotic and deep-sea habitats in the South Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.

For soft-bottom communities, we focus on the meiofaunal and macrofaunal studies from community-level analyses to species-level analyses, in particular of harpacticoid copepods. Previous work has been conducted on the infaunal communities of the eastern Pacific continental slope and the harpacticoid species of that region and the coastal Gulf of Mexico. We are interested in expanding these studies to include studies of the soft-sediment communities of Rio Grande Valley coastal ecosystems to monitor changes in response to natural environmental gradients, natural and human-caused disturbances, and restoration efforts. I am currently seeking a graduate student interested in developing a research project to study the meiofaunal communities of the Bahia Grande in response to restoration efforts (i.e., widening of channel to improve water flow).

For hard-bottom communities, we focus on the sessile and mobile benthic macrofaunal communities of mesophotic and deep coral ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico and the seamounts and oceanic islands of the southeast Pacific. Of particular interest to our lab are community-level studies to explore distribution and connectivity patterns and the environmental conditions driving the observed patterns as well es ecological, connectivity, and evolutionary studies of octocorals of the Gulf of Mexico mesophotic and deep coral ecosystems. I am currently seeking a student to analyze video data from the southeast Pacific seamounts, and another student to conduct taxonomic and molecular studies on octocorals.

In addition to the above projects, I welcome students and a post-doctoral researchers interested in developing research proposals to submit to grant-issuing organizations to support their research goals in benthic ecology and evolution. If you are interested in joining the lab, email Dr. Easton your CV and statement of research interest.

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