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SubProject 1: Marine Ecosystems; Susceptible and Resilient Marine Invertebrates

Mark Miller, PhD

Institute of Neurobiology and

Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology

University of Puerto Rico

Medical Sciences Campus


Impact of contaminants and temperature on central pattern generator neural circuits

Animals typically modify their behavior when confronted by environmental change. Many motor behaviors, such as those that would cause an organism to approach, avoid, consume, or reject a stimulus encountered in their environment are produced by groups of neurons termed central pattern generators (CPGs). In euopisthobranch mollusks, stereotypic motor behaviors such as feeding, and locomotion are controlled by limited numbers of large-diameter neurons that are accessible for physiological or optical recording. This project will examine motor systems in the tropical sea hare, Bursatella leachii to assess effects of environmental factors on feeding and locomotion. Bursatella are found during the summer months on the north coast of Puerto Rico. They have demonstrated resilience to environmental challenges, including hurricanes and the 1994 oil spill near the public beach of Escambrón Point in San Juan These studies will provide an opportunity to examine sub-lethal effects on complex neural circuits that are critical for survival of the organism.

Manuel Diaz-Rios, PhD

Medical Sciences Campus

We test effects of known environmental contaminants including phthalates on the feeding and locomotion programs in the tropical marine mollusk Bursatella leachii.  We will also examine the effects of thermal stress on feeding and locomotion programs in Bursatella leachii. To conduct these experiments the use intracellular and extracellular recordings combined with immunohistochemistry and calcium imaging will be employed. The goal of this subproject is to use data obtained from the proposed experiments to better learn how to mitigate negative effects on organisms in the marine ecosystem.

Alberto Sabat, PhD

Department of Biology

University of Puerto Rico

Rio Piedras Campus

PO Box 23360, San Juan PR 00931-3360 


We want to assess the effect of environmental stressors, including contaminants, on the population biology and bio-demography of marine invertebrates in the San Juan Bay Estuary. The goal is to be able to mathematically model the effect of environmental stressors on the population dynamics of marine organisms in the San Juan Bay Estuary

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