Faculty  Students Hermit Crab Sponges



Every member of the Biology Department is engaged in original research and works closely with students in independent study projects or summer research. Current research interests of Coe biologists  are described below. 

Many students spend a summer in an off-campus research laboratory.  In past summers, Coe biology students have worked with scientists at Mayo Clinic, Northwest Missouri State, University of Iowa, University of Chicago, The Nature Conservancy, Linn County Conservation Department, Cargill, Inc., Penford Products, Pierce Laboratories, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Argonne National Laboratory and others. These positions are supported by the National Science Foundation, The Howard Hughes Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy.  For a description of recent student summer projects, follow this link. 


Dr. Hadow

Dr. Hadow's research centers on ornithological studies in Costa Rica and his mammalian studies of clearcut areas in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. 


Dr. Redborg

My research interests concern an interesting group of insects known as mantispids that are predators in the egg sacs of spiders. My recent sabbatical was spent studying the distribution of two species, Mantispa uhleri Banks and Mantispa pulchella (Banks), on overwintering spiders in Iowa. My research program involves both field and laboratory work and has involved a number of students doing publishable independent projects. The most recent of these is: 

Laura C. O'Brien and Kurt E. Redborg. 1996. Copulation duration in the spider Philodromus vulgaris Hentz (Araneae: Philodromidae) and its influence on the evolution of host transfer behavior during cannibalism by Mantispa uhleri Banks (Neuroptera: Mantispidae). Submitted to Journal of Insect Behavior

Dr. Sanchini

I am a plant ecologist interested in population and community level patterns and how they are affected by disturbances.  I am convinced that real progress in this area is possible by looking at patterns of change at larger scales that has been possible in the past.  Landscape ecology - and its tools of choice, geographic information system software, satellite imagery and global positioning hardware - enable research designs and perform spatial analyses that can contrast trajectories of change on different sites.  I am using this approach in two studies at the present time.  Working with Dr. Hadow, I am developing a retrospective look at how the Behren's ponds have migrated and changed in size over time.  As a partner in the Iowa River Corridor Study, I hope to develop a prospective model for how floodplain buffers along the Iowa River might look in the future. 

Two characteristics of Iowa landscapes play out in my research.  First, Iowa has some of the most productive farmland in the world and Iowa landscapes reflect that.   Less than 5% of the land area remains in its natural pre-settlement condition. This means that the environmental impacts of modern farming are particularly pervasive in Iowa.  Studies like the one going on along the Iowa River are particularly important because they can document the regenerative properties of floodplain buffers and maximize the impact the buffers have on water quality while also reducing erosion along the river.  This project integrates another interesting feature of local Iowa geography.  Eastern Iowa exists in a tension zone between eastern deciduous forest and tallgrass prairie.  The landscapes around Coe’s campus and along the Iowa River were not completely devoid of forests until they were cleared by early settlers.  Now tree seedlings successfully compete with prairie grasses on successional sites.  A great challenge of the Iowa River Corridor Project is to discover how to promote the recovery of natural wet prairie communities within the buffer.  The opportunity to contribute to the success of the Iowa River Corridor Project will provide me and my students with a challenging array of research alternatives for many years to come.

A ‘landscape’ is ‘what you can see from a high place’. 
This is what you can see from a high place along the Iowa River.  New patches of herbaceous floodplain vegetation hold their own in the established riparian zone.  Note the horizon unbroken by natural plant communitites. 

Dr. Sandford

Dr. Sandford is a generalist whose research interests take him in different directions. Some of his past and present interests include the study of aggressive behavior in field mice and in field crickets, the role of modern zoos in education, conservation, and in research (he has worked at both the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park in California and the Paignton Zoo in England during two sabbatical leaves), education on rain forest issues (he wrote the Tropical Rain Forest Food Web Game for elementary teachers), and native American cultures and their views of the natural world (he periodically gives programs on this topic as a member of the speaker's bureau of the Iowa Humanities Board). 

He is currently investigating certain hermit crab species in the Gulf of Mexico that use portable sponge shelters. Sponge/hermit crab associations are known from different world locations but have been little studied. For the past 9 years he has taken students to Dog Island, Florida, a barrier island off the northern Florida panhandle, and for the past 5 years he has been studying a sponge/hermit crab association found there. Little work has been done on this association or on the sponge partner, Spongosorites suberitoides, and the typical hermit crab occupant, the dimpled hermit Pagurus impressus

Studies to date by Dr. Sandford and Coe students have investigated hermit crab populations in the Dog Island area and their association with sponges and other shell epibionts such as the cloak anemone Calliactis tricolor, hermit crab shell/sponge switching behavior, and the kinds of gastropod shell substrates used by the sponge. In 1994 Dr. Sandford worked with Dr. Michelle Kelly, Curator of Porifera at the British Museum of Natural History in London. They identified the sponge as S. suberitoides, correcting a misidentification (as Xestospongia halichondriodes or as Suberites compacta) which has existed in the literature since 1969 when the sponge was first reported in the Dog Island area by H.W. Wells. Additionally, they redescribed the species S. suberitoides on the basis of specimens from the Gulf population and discovered that the sponge can either live in association with hermit crabs or as a free-living form, growing on docks, wharf pilings, and inanimate substrates. Many questions remain unanswered and further studies of this interesting association between sponge and hermit crab are planned. 


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Coe College 1999

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