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Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Marine Invertebrates

Department: Scripps Institution of Oceanography         

Instructors: Lori Luers
Instructor Email:

Prerequisites: None
Schedule: TBD

Course Description

Marine invertebrates represent 97% of all animal diversity! Yet, there is still much to learn from them. They are found in every ocean ecosystem including underwater volcanoes, reefs, kelp forests, rocky shores, and whale falls. Not only do they form the foundation of the ecosystems we rely on, they also have a direct impact on humans: they protect coastal communities from storms, impact economies via tourism and fisheries, contribute to new medicines, and teach us about the history of our planet. We will dive into the diversity of marine invertebrates which includes masters of camouflage, bioluminescence, hunting, architecture, vision, survival and more! We will learn how and why animals are classified, and the characteristics that separate them from each other. We will look at how they are being affected today, and how that affects human beings and the world around us. We will integrate all this knowledge and apply it to develop critical thinking skills.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

  • Skills to identify and classify marine invertebrates with an understanding of their relevance to marine biology
  • Reading and understanding phylogenetic trees
  • Understanding of adaptations of marine invertebrates that allow them to withstand extreme environments.
  • A heightened understanding of marine ecosystems and the interactions at play, in particular between animals
  • The ability to discuss the significance of marine invertebrates to human health, economy, and our ecosystems
  • Deepened awareness of human impacts, as well as current research methods and sustainability initiatives
  • Skills in reading and analyzing scientific papers as well as citing sources

Course Topics/Outline

  • Introduction to marine habitats (open ocean, deep sea, intertidal, kelp forest)
  • Poriferans (sponges)
  • Cnidarians (jellyfish and anemones)
  • Platyhelminthes (flatworms)
  • Molluscs (snails, mussels, etc.)
  • Annelids (marine worms)
  • Arthropods (shrimp, crab, etc.)
  • Lophophorates (bryozoans)
  • Smaller phyla (tardigrades, rotifers, chaetognaths, etc.)
  • Echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers)
  • Urochordates and hemichordates (tunicates and amphioxus)
  • Human impacts and sustainability initiatives
  • Effects of climate change
  • Research & survey methods

Week 1 Module

  • Introduction to course objectives, classmates, and technological format (icebreakers)
  • Assess prior knowledge and introduction to marine science and ecosystems (deep-sea, coral reefs, tidepools, kelp forests)
  • Significance of marine invertebrates to the world
  • Classification and phylogenetics
  • Characteristics, biodiversity, and research regarding the following phyla: Porifera (sponges), Cnidaria (incl. Jellyfish, corals), Ctenophora (comb jellies), Platyhelminthes (flatworms), and Lophophorates (bryozoans, chaetognaths, rotifers, brachiopods)
  • How to research online and read & cite scientific articles

Week 2 Module

  • Molluscs (bivalves, sea slugs, octopus, squid, abalone)
  • Annelids (segmented worms)
  • Arthropods (crabs, krill, sea spiders, water bears)
  • Current research and significance of Mollusca, Annelida, and Arthropoda to humans
  • Critical thinking regarding a chosen topic (bioluminescence, camoflauge, disease, invasive species, biomimicry, etc.)
  • Class discussion and journal reflection

Week 3 Module

  • Continuing Arthropods
  • Echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers)
  • Introduction to other deuterostomes (urochordates and hemichordates)
  • Diversity and importance of plankton
  • Critical thinking regarding a chosen topic
  • Class discussion and journal reflection

Week 4 Module

  • Field work methods (biodiversity surveys, plankton tows, etc.)
  • Climate change impacts on marine invertebrates
  • Current projects relevant to marine invertebrates
  • Colleges, careers, and topics of students' preference
  • Final project sharing and presentations
  • Class discussion and journal reflection


*Courses vary by experience and exposure to content. Instructors have the ability to change content and pace to serve the needs of students. Courses have been modified for online teaching.