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The Soper Lab


Deanna Soper

Dr. Soper (left) with her research students Spring 2019.


In my lab my I investigate a wide range of topics that are primarily focused on understanding how ecological and evolutionary factors interact to result in genotypic and phenotypic expression of a wide variety of traits within a population.  I am also interested in understanding the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms behind population abundance and distribution.  Although most of my work during my dissertation and postdoctoral appointment was focused on the freshwater snail from New Zealand, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, most recently I have significantly expanded my focus to the marine environment.  My lab now has two lines of questioning one that exists at the population level and the other at the organismal level.  

If you are a current UD undergraduate student and are interested in joining the lab, please fill out this application ( and send me an interest statement via email (  

Abundance and Distribution - Population Level

Why are populations more abudnant in certain regions of a habitat?  Why are species distributed in a particular geographic pattern?  These questions have driven two major projects in my lab. 

Machine Learning for Underwater Exploration

This project is in collaboration with NOAA, MBARI, and CVision AI.  NOAA has collected hundreds of hours of video footage using the ship Okeanos Explorer and the accompanying Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer (D2) (see here for a short descriptive video).  We are assisting with the development of software that will enable researchers to be able to pin point the observation of specific organisms (at various taxon levels) within the videos.  This tool will help with reducing video processing time and increase efficiency of data collection.  The students also assist with training data sets that ultimately enrich alogrithims that are used in software development.  This software feeds into MBARI's FathomNet, a collection of deep-sea data.  The goal is to make all of the video footage easily accessible to educators and researchers that is searchable and efficient at data acquisition.  Our lab hopes this will enable us and others to more efficiently answer questions about species distribution and abundance of organisms in the benthic ocean environments. 

Gastropod and Parasite Distribution in Michigan

During Summer 2019, in collaboration with the Raffel Lab at Oakland University, Freshwater Solutions, and the Hanington Lab at the University of Alberta, we collected snails, parasites, and water samples to determine species distribution and abundance.  Our goal is to better understand the life cycle and dynamics of the parasites that cause Swimmer's Itch.  Swimmer's Itch is a rash that is caused by humans swimming in waters that contain parasites that have been shed by snails.  We are seeking to better understand why swimmer's itch occurs in areas where the snails and parasites that swimmer's itch has been primarily attributed to do not occur.  


Ecological Genetics - Organismal Level

Rapid coral growth after microfragmentation

How does gene expression lead to phenotypic differences? 

In order to answer this very broad question, we utilize an endangered coral species, Orbicella faveloata (Mountainous Star Coral).  This species is a stony boulder coral thatOrbicella faveolata wild colony, Florida Keys 2019 exists in the shallow waters of the Caribbean.  Stony corals are under threat of extinction, and in collaboration with the Mote's Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration (IC2R#) and the Stenesen Lab, we are investigating O. faveolata growth after microfragmentation, which is a process by which fragmenting a larger coral into tiny pieces exponentialy increases its growth rate.  This project has two aims: (1) to understand what areas of the microfragments undergo rapid growth and (2) determine what transcriptional targets are activated post-fragmentation.

                                                                                                                  Orbicella faveolata colony, Florida Keys 2019                                                                                                                                 Photo credit: Deanna M. Soper

coral polyp
Orbicella faveolata polyp; Photo Credit: Deanna M. Soper

All stony corals are under significant threat to extinction.  Global climate change, decreasing pH as the result of increasing atmospheric CO2 levels, and increased disease prevelance (i.e. Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in the Florida Keys) have all reduced populations across the world.  This fact, makes the work we do important to not only better understand basic coral biology, but also provide information to coral reef restoration practioners to assist in mitigating the damage that has been incurred.

In a second project, we are using our scanning electron microscope (funded by the Keck Foundation, see our SEM website here) to examine coral skeletal formation under increased temperature and decreased pH.  The goal is to understand how these altered conditions (predicted to be reached in 2100) will affect coral growth and formation.  

SEM image of O. faveolata



Other Projects

Documentation of reproductive structures in Potamopyrgus antipodarum

Potamopyrgus antipodarum is an interesting snail to study because it has several characteristics that are uncommon in other snail species.  For example, this snail is dioecious, meaning that individuals are either male or female.  Males can be identified through external genitalia, which they use to internally fertilize females.  Females do not lay eggs, but rather undergo "pregnancy" (internal gestation) and give live birth.  Baby snails can sometimes be born in their gestational sac (see video here).  In this project, we are documenting male reproductive structures to better understand the heterogeneity present in this organ within and among populations.  This project is funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation.



I have also developed collaborations with the Cody and Stenesen Labs (at UD) utilizing Drosophila melanogaster.  My collaboration with the Cody Lab investigates evolutionary changes to host and parasite populations.  The Stenesen Lab has a project focused on investigating a mutation in pain reception and I have assisted with protocol development of behavioral assays.  

Evolution of virulence and reproductive structures under host/pathogen evolution in Drosophila melanogaster using Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Drosophila melanogaster has been utilized to better understand the Pseudomonas aeruginosa chronic and acute infection of cystic fibrosis patients.  Drosophila melanogaster provides an opportunity to understand evolutionary changes in both host and parasite because Drosophila have a short life span and infection can easily be performed.  Here, we are undergoing an experimental evolution project that utilizes coevolving host and parasite.  We are tracking genetic, behavioral, and morphological characteristics of both organisms.  

Healthy vs Infected Drosophila

Photo Credit: Angela Moore

Drosophila melanogaster infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa compared to unifected D. melanogaster.


Conference Talks

Ocean Sciences Meeting, 2022

Michigan State: Michigan Inland Lakes Conference, 2020

Evolution Conference, 2019

Evolution Conference, 2016


Soper, D.M., Villafranca, N., Dieffenthaller, J.P., Dieffenthaller, M., Tompkins, H., Weglarz, M., Vaughan, D., Hamlyn, S.B., Stenesen, D. (2022) Growth and Cyclin-E Expression in the Stony Coral Species Orbicella faveolata Post Micro-fragmentation. The Biological Bulletin. 242(1): 40-47.

Soper, D. M. (2021) Education and Research: a symbiosis to better understand a novel coral disease. Frontiers in Marine Science. doi:10.3389/fmars.2021.669472.

White, P. S., Penley, M. J., Tierney, A. R. P., Soper, D. M., & Morran, L. T. (2019) Dauer life stage of Caenorhabditis elegans induces elevated levels of defense against the parasite Serratia marcescensScientific reports. 9(1): 1-9.

Soper, D.M., Hatcher, K.M., and Neiman, M. (2015) Documentation of Copulatory Behaviour in Triploid Male Freshwater Snails. Ethology, Ecology, & Evolution. doi:10.1080/03949370.2015.1030781.

Soper, D.M., King, K.C., Vergara, D., and Lively, C.M. (2014) Exposure to parasites increases promiscuity in a freshwater snail. Biology Letters. 10(4): 20131091.

Soper, D.M., Savytskyy, O.P., Neiman, M., Zolan, M.E., and Lively, C.M. (2013) Spermatozoa production by triploid males in the New Zealand freshwater snail Potamopyrgus antipodarum. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 110(1): 227-234.

Soper, D.M., Delph, L.F., and Lively C.M. (2012) Multiple paternity in Potamopyrgus antipodarum. Ecology & Evolution. 2(12): 3179-3185.

Soper, D.M.  (2012) The reproductive biology of Potamopyrgus antipodarum at the organismal and cellular level.  Dissertation, Indiana University.

Neiman, M., Paczesniak, D., Soper, D.M., Baldwin, A.T., and Hehman, G.  (2011) Wide variation in ploidy level and genome size in a New Zealand freshwater snail with coexisting sexual and asexual lineages.  Evolution. 65(11): 3202-3216.

Montgomery, B., Soper, D.M., and Delph, L.F. (2010) Asymmetrical conspecific seed-siring advantage in Silene. Annuals of Botany. 105(4): 595-605.

Other Media

Unless Podcast - "Supermicrofragmentationpolyprestoration"

Can be found here.

Potamopyrgus antipodarum article for The Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians

http://www. metropolitannaturalhistory. org/taxon-of-the-month/ potamopyrgus-antipodarum

 Invited Speaker Talks

Dr. Maurine Neiman: Sex in the Wild Talk, April 2018 can be found here.

Dr. Laurie Marker: Cheetahs & Humans Sharing a Landscape Talk, October 2018 can be found here.

Mainstream Media Coverage

-Science Daily

-Iowa Now

Snail Care Videos

Snail feeding:

Water changing:


Lab Members


Monique Bedolla, Undergraduate Researcher, Summer 2021-present

Emma Bergman, Undergraduate Researcher, Spring 2022-present

Gerardo Canedo, Undergraduate Researcher, Summer 2022-present

Tamara Elliott, Visiting Undergraduate Researcher, Summer 2022

Abigail Fritz, Undergraduate Researcher, Spring 2021-present

Bryan Muckensturm, Undergraduate Researcher, Summer 2021-present

Jana Rocha, Undergraduate Researcher, Summer 2021-present

Maura Van Bogaert, Undergraduate Researcher, Fall 2020-present


Versana Roch-Diaz, B.S. '22, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2020

Carolann Stone, B.S. '21, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2020 - Spring 2021; currently: Doctor of Physical Therapy at University of Delaware

Natalie Villafranca, B.S. '21, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2019 - Fall 2020; currently: Master's Student at Texas State University

Maria Zambrana, B.S. '21, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2020 - Fall 2020; currently: Educator at Great Hearts, Dallas

Allison Driskill, B.S. '20, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2019 - Spring 2020

Devon Romano, BS. '20, M.S. from University of Texas, Galveston '22, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2019-Spring 2020

Lydia Jones, B.S. '20, Undergraduate Resarcher Fall 2019-Spring 2020, currently: Natural Resource Interpretative Assistant at Badlands National Park

Molly Weglarz, B.S. '20, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2019

Hayden Tompkins, Visiting Research Scholar, Fall 2018-Spring 2019, M.S. from Miami University '21

Meghan (Rearden) Dieffenthaller, B.S. '19, M.S. '21 from Colorado State University, Visiting Research Scholar, Spring 2019, currently: Health Physicist 2 at Stratify/M.H. Chew Associates

Abigail Sequeira, B.S. '19; M.S. from Texas A & M '22, Undergraduate Researcher Spring 2017-Spring 2019, currently: Ph.D. student at Penn State University

John Paul Dieffenthaller, B.S. '19, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2018-Spring 2019, currently: Science Educator (online) for Colorado Early Colleges

Virginia Green, B.S. '19, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2018, currently: Ph.D. student at Indiana University

Colette Ohotnicky, B.S. '18, Undergraduate Researcher Spring 2017-Spring 2018, Obtained Master's Degree Oregon State University '20, currently: Science Teacher at Chesterton Academy of John Paul II

Angela Moore, B.S. '18, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2017, currently: P.A. student at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Physician Assistant Program