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Gelder, Williams receive Discover Life in America grant

Dr. Stuart R. Gelder, Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and Ms Bronwyn W. Williams, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Canada, were just informed that they have been awarded $4,940 from the “Discover Life in America” fund to partially support the first survey of crayfish worms in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP).

According to Gelder, the Appalachian region has the highest concentration of branchiobdellidan species in the world. The study will involve collection and identification of crayfish worms from crayfishes sampled at selected sites across the park. From this information, a species and distribution list will be constructed for the park.

Representative worms will be preserved and mounted on microscope slides as permanent preparations, and placed in the GSMNP repository for future reference.

“As surrounding areas change, it is vital to know what species are present in the protected park,” Gelder said.

Selected specimens will be used in Williams’ doctoral work on the reconstruction of a molecular phylogeneny of crayfish worms of the world using genetic sequencing methods.

In addition, it is anticipated that a number of new species will be found. Before naming the new species and writing the necessary manuscript for publication, the researchers will first have to make permanent slide preparations of the specimens at UMPI. Once this has been completed, the slides will be deposited in the Smithsonian Institution, the Park’s own reference collection, and other relevant museum collections.

Discover Life in America [DLIA] is the non-profit organization that coordinates the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory [ATBI] in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. According to its website, the DLIA is committed to developing a model for research in biodiversity and using that knowledge to develop and disseminate information to encourage the discovery, understanding, preservation and enjoyment of natural resources. For more information about DLIA, visit its website at