Biologist Ron Etter
UMass Boston Professor of Biology Ron Etter is developing the genetic tools to explore population structure in the deep sea, as well as producing the first critical evidence of how and where evolutionary diversification occurs in this vast ecosystem. He and his colleagues at UMass Boston and other universities in the U.S. are creating a conceptual and methodological context for future evolutionary studies in the deep sea; a concept presented by Etter and his UMass colleague, Professor of Biology Michael Rex, in their book, Deep-Sea Biodiversity: Pattern and Scale (2010).
“The work produced in our lab reflects the combined effort of my students and post docs,” says Etter. “It really is a group effort that depends on the contribution of all to be successful. I’m lucky to have a very bright, dynamic, and highly interactive group.”
Etter’s enthusiasm for his research is fully enmeshed with his passion for teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, especially students from UMass Boston. And for Etter there is no place like home.
In 1980, he graduated summa cum laude with a BS in biology from UMass Boston. He went on to study at Harvard University where he received his AM and PhD degrees in biology.
“Most research on the deep-sea community of organisms that live on, in, or near the deep-sea floor has focused on the ecological mechanisms that allow coexistence. The evolutionary processes that generated this remarkable diversity are essentially unknown,” explains Etter.
Part of the research in Etter’s lab has been to quantify patterns of genetic variation in deep-sea organisms to identify the mechanisms and geography of speciation. Their research is the first concerted effort to study the genetic basis of population differentiation in the deep sea and has been supported by the National Science Foundation with three major grants over the past 14 years.
“I’m interested in basic questions about the ecology and evolution of marine organisms, especially the forces that control the origin and maintenance of diversity. My research involves correlative, experimental, and theoretical approaches and studies at the genetic, population, and community levels of organization. We conduct research in a wide variety of marine ecosystems from the intertidal zone to the deep sea,” says Etter.
Projects include: (1) experimental studies on the forces that shape patterns of diversity in the deep sea; (2) population genetic analyses of shallow and deep water organisms to investigate dispersal, gene flow, population differentiation and speciation; (3) the ecological forces that structure subtidal communities and the impact of invasive species; (4) the influence of wave energy on the biology, ecology and evolution of intertidal organisms; and (5) theoretical metapopulation models of patch dynamics.