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Gelder, Williams return from research trip funded by nearly $5,000 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, recently returned from a research trip in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park [GSMNP] after being awarded a $4,940 grant from the Discover Life in America [DLIA] fund.

The grant supported the very first survey of crayfish worms in the national park and may also lead to a much larger research project that would involve multiple scientists and potentially could be funded through a National Science Foundation grant.

Gelder and Williams spent two weeks collecting crayfish at selected sites across the park and identifying crayfish worms. According to Gelder, one of the world’s top researchers in his field of study, the Appalachian region has the highest concentration of branchiobdellidan species in the world.

During their visit, park biologists put Gelder and Williams in touch with a crayfish biologist who previously had conducted research on crayfish in the park. This led to an invitation for the two to examine crayfish species outside of the park in Tennessee. Gelder and Williams ultimately extended their trip by two weeks in order to visit two state parks and several sites where they studied more crayfish worms.

Two thirds of the species the two found throughout their trip were identified using live examination methods developed by Gelder; however, the remainder had to be brought back to the lab for a more detailed examination. This work – which includes preserving and mounting representative worms on microscope slides for the Smithsonian Institution, the GSMNP reference collection, and other relevant museum collections – is now in progress and will be underway for the next six weeks.

Once all samples have been identified and processed, species and distribution lists will be constructed for the Tennessee state parks and for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Selected specimens also will be used in Williams’ doctoral work on the reconstruction of a molecular phylogeneny of crayfish worms from around the world using genetic sequencing methods. In addition, one new species of crayfish worm, from Tennessee, has been found so far. It, and any other new species that are identified, will be named and described for publication and specimens will be deposited in both the Smithsonian Institution and the New Brunswick Museum, in St. John, New Brunswick.

Gelder and Williams already have received invitations to return to the GSMNP and to Tennessee to continue and develop the research they did there.

“The DLIA grant Bronwyn and I received made all of this possible,” Gelder said. “We’re very pleased to be adding so much new information to the body of work on branchiobdellidan species.”

Discover Life in America is the non-profit organization that coordinates the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory [ATBI] in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For more information, visit its website at