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 thus far has focused on the freshwater
snail from New Zealand, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, most recently I have significantly expanded my focus. My lab now has two lines of
questioning one that exists at the population level and the other at the organismal
Abundance and Distribution
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
The first is a new and emerging project in collaboration with NOAA and the MIT Open
Oceans Intiative. 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. Eventually, our lab hopes
this will enable our lab and others to more efficiently answer questions about species
distribution and abundance of organisms in the benthic ocean environments. In addition,
the development of software will make the thousands of ROV-collected video more accessible
During Summer 2019, in collaboration with the RaffelLab at Oakland University, we collected snails and parasites 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. Over the last year, we have identified over 1,200 snails
that were collected. In the coming year, we hope to better characterize differences
in snail size and morphology among lake populations. This work is funded by the Michigan
Swimmer's Itch Partnership.
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 that 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.
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.
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 videohere). 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.
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.
Photo Credit: Angela Moore
Drosophila melanogaster infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa compared to unifected D. melanogaster.
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.
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