Nudibranchs and other opisthobranchs are without question the most fascinating marine gastropods because of their beauty and astonishing biology. For a relatively small clade in terms of species numbers, opisthobranchs have been able to adapt to numerous niches and evolve many novel mechanisms for feeding and defense.
I have been fascinated by these organisms since an early age. I vividly remember the first time I found a nudibranch in the tide pools and since that day I just couldn’t get enough of them. I currently work at Cal Poly University in Pomona where I teach evolutionary biology, marine biology and conduct research on the phylogeny and systematics of opisthobranchs. I’m also a research associate with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County with which I maintain a close relationship. I have a small, but active lab. My students are working on molecular and morphological phylogenies of different groups, with an emphasis on local Eastern Pacific and Caribbean taxa. An interesting question we are trying to address is whether feeding behavior is driving speciation in some target groups of nudibranchs – the results we are obtaining are pretty surprising. We are also finding that there are several cryptic species that can only be recognized using molecular markers, as their internal anatomy and external coloration are identical.
WSM conferences are excellent venues for first student presentations and I encourage my students to participate in the meetings. We look forward to the next conference in which we will share with you our latest discoveries.