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Principal Investigator      

Thomas M. Iliffe
Department of Marine Biology

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Current Graduate Students      

Lauren Ballou
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Marine Biology

I completed my undergraduate biology degree at Berea College where I had the opportunity to study marine biology abroad in Australia and Honduras. After completing my degree, I worked as a laboratory technician for one year in a deep-sea lab at Harvard University. I then received the NSF GRFP scholarship and began my anchialine fauna research at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Anchialine caves are unique habitats that host a wide variety of organisms that live exclusively in groundwater. Due to the challenges of accessing these submerged cave systems, little is known about the distribution, evolutionary history, and ecology of these organisms. Through my research, I seek to develop a better understanding of these fauna using the shrimp genus Typhlatya and the crustacean Class Remipedia as model species. My research focuses on the evolution of taxonomic groups, the geographic distribution of these species, evolution, and systematics. My work has allowed me to travel around the world, ranging from the Turks and Caicos Islands of the Caribbean to the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Fernando Calderón Gutiérrez
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Marine Biology

I am a passionate Marine Biologist from Mexico. Since secondary school, I have been intrigued by how life succeeds in underwater caves, even when there is a lack of light and food. I studied Marine Biology in the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS) in La Paz, Mexico. At PFA-UABCS I had the opportunity to work on projects concerning the natural history, ecology and conservation of marine environments. In 2011, I became a cave diver and immediately started conducting research on underwater caves. As part of my bachelor’s dissertation, I identified 69 species from 10 phyla of macrofauna and established an ecological baseline in a cave from Cozumel. I got a Mexican scholarship (CONACYT) to pursue a master’s degree, in which I expanded the study to the comparison of the community assemblage of four caves. In order to be able to work with so many different groups, I worked on a collaboration with taxonomists at UABCS and UNAM (Mexico City). Currently, I am a Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M University at Galveston, supported by CONACYT, where I am continuing the studies on the biodiversity and conservation of underwater caves, which are the only access to these subterranean estuaries.

I have participated in sixteen scientific meetings and published five research papers and a book chapter, including the description of six new species of marine sponges inhabiting an anchialine cave in Cozumel. I am a strong believer in the importance of communicating science to a broader audience in order to be successful in any conservation effort. Therefore, I have published six articles in popular magazines and blogs. I have also presented at local museums in my study area (2018) and participated in the filming of a Netflix documentary to be released in 2020.

Sarah Rubelowsky
Ph.D. Student
Department of Marine Biology

I graduated with a bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences with an Emphasis in Environmental Biology from the University of Southern Mississippi. During my time at Southern Miss, I gained teaching experience working as a biology laboratory teaching assistant, educating undergraduates in the fundamentals of biology. I also worked in an ichthyology laboratory as a research technician under Dr. Jake Schaefer, where I wrote an undergraduate honors thesis studying the salinity tolerances of an invasive freshwater fish in Mississippi. I learned about the different frameworks it takes to execute a successful research program and because of that, my research has been continued since graduating and is in preparation for publication.

After graduating from college, I accepted a seven-month scuba diving internship at Rainbow Reef Dive Center, the largest dive shop in North America, located in Key Largo, Florida. I worked for two years as a full-time Master Scuba Diver Trainer with 23 instructor specialty ratings, Diveheart Adaptive Buddy, and Conservation Coordinator for Rainbow Reef. The best thing about scuba diving is there is always something more to learn. I have recently completed my Full Cave Diver certification and have started my introduction to technical diving. My goal is to utilize these skills working in Dr. Iliffe’s lab as his current Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University at Galveston. My research interests include conservation biology, hydrology, and cave ecology.

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Former Graduate Students      

Rachel Adams
PhD in Ecosystems Science and Management

Landscape controls on and physiological benefits of deep rooting by trees in Quintana Roo, Mexico, May 2020

David Brankovits
PhD in Marine Biology

Biogeochemical and hydrological controls of methane dynamics and ecosystem function in a tropical karst subterranean estuary, December 2017

Sepp Haukebo
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Ecological and biogeochemical characterization of a subterranean estuary in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, December 2013

Julie Neish
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science

The use of stable and radiocarbon isotopes as a method for delineating sources of organic matter in anchialine systems, May 2013

Jonathan Stoffer
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science

A hydrological model of Harrington Sound, Bermuda and its surrounding cave systems, May 2013

Brett Gonzalez
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Novel bacterial diversity in an anchialine blue hole on Abaco Island, Bahamas, December 2010

Jenipher Cate
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences

Assessing the impact of groundwater pollution from marine caves on nearshore seagrass beds in Bermuda, August 2009

Bridge Maloney
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science

The role of macroalgal species as bioindicators of water quality in Bermudian karstic cave pools, December 2008

Rebecca Lane Belcher
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences

Phylogeography of five species of the stygobitic shrimp genus Typhlatya, as determined from the sequence analysis of three mitochondrial genes, August 2004

Darcy Ann Gibbons
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences

An environmental assessment of Bermuda's caves, December 2003

Michael Scott Webb
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences

Intraspecific relationships among the stygobitic shrimp Typhlatya mitchelli, by analyzing sequence data from mitochondrial DNA, May 2003

Brett Wayne Dodson
M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences

Water column characterization of anchialine caves in Quintana Roo, Mexico, 2000

John Williams Pohlman
M.S. in Oceanography

Analysis of the ecology of anchialine caves using carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes, December 1995

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