Copepod colonisations

We are studying the primitive species found in mixed-water caves to explore their early evolution and determine how copepods came to dominate the oceans.

Working in anchialine cave

Museum scientist working in an anchialine cave on Bermuda.

Copepods dominate the oceans, but just how they achieved this from their origins in shallow coastal waters is a complex question.

Some species of copepods found in mixed sea and freshwater caves (anchialine caves) are unusually primitive and provide clues as to how copepods began their invasion of the oceans.

We have collected crustaceans from numerous cave sites in and around the Caribbean and from islands in the South Pacific. These specimens are being documented and described, and their evolutionary history untangled.

So far we have discovered that the colonisation of these caves probably occurred at least 100 million years ago during the age of the dinosaurs.

In freshwater systems, the Cyclopidae family of copepods is dominant, with more than 900 species. We are also studying how this family has expanded and adapted to new ecological niches.

Glossary

Anchialine cave
Anchialine caves are underwater caves that contain a mixture of fresh water and seawater. They create a unique habitat, often with their own distinct animal species, such as blind cave fish.

Project collaborators