Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Monday, April 4, 2005
From This Issue
Volume 82 • Number 4
Spring 2005

Jeffries’ Journeys
Emeritus professor’s research reaches out to the world
By Kathryn Tirjan
Ten years after retirement, Bill Jeffries is a presence on campus—and now on the World Wide Web. The professor emeritus of biology and his collaborator since the mid-1970s, former Assistant Professor of Biology Harold Voris, launched a Web site in August offering scholarly resources on gooseneck barnacles of the genus Octolasmis. The site is supported by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

Jeffries explains that his research partnership with Voris “started out of a friendship developed here at Dickinson.” Voris taught biology at Dickinson from 1969-73, then joined the Field Museum, where he now is curator and head of the division of amphibians and reptiles in the zoology department.

While doing research on sea snakes during the mid-’70s in Malaysia, Voris found interesting animals, epizoites, on the snakes. He removed several barnacles from the sea snakes and sent them to Jeffries for identification.

“During the summers of 1974, 1975 and 1976, I examined over 1,300 sea snakes in the Field Museum collection, found several different species of barnacles, and we became interested in one kind in particular [the Octolasmis],” says Jeffries.

Jeffries and Voris traveled to Ko Phuket, an island off the western coast of Thailand, in the early 1990s to conduct research. At the Phuket Marine Biological Center they began examining the common edible mangrove crab, Scylla serrata, and its barnacle epizoites.

“Our objective was to establish what species of Octolasmis were present and to determine when, in the life cycle of the host, barnacle infestation begins,” says Jeffries. “The long-range objective was to evaluate what impact the barnacles are having on their hosts and what impact they may have on the crab-fishing industry.”

Looking back, Jeffries is quick to credit the role Dickinson students have played in the research, especially since some 22 Dickinson-affiliated names are listed as supporting colleagues on the Web site. Students have “done everything from helping to dissect specimens to making original observations to making drawings for publications,” says Jeffries.

Some students helped with grant-funded research and had work published, which is fairly uncommon for undergraduates, according to Jeffries. “It’s great to be at an institution where you can work with students who are interested enough and good enough to become seriously involved.”

Marcus Key, associate professor of geology, is featured on the site as a co-author. While examining the sea snakes in the Field Museum, explains Jeffries, “I collected detailed information on everything I observed.” He passed on to Key data on Bryozoa, animals somewhat resembling coral and lacking a backbone.

“I recorded my detailed observations, and [Key] organized and analyzed them, thereby exposing their significance,” Jeffries explains. “This is one of the happiest circumstances that develops out of working together.”

In November, Jeffries and Voris returned to Thailand to collect more specimens—“to survey the Gulf of Thailand for Octolasmis and to assess different populations for possible genetic differentiation,” according to Jeffries.

During a five-week stay, they lived mainly on the Chulalongkorn University campus. With graduate students as interpreters, and a rented van and driver, they visited much of the western coast of the Gulf of Thailand, making a southern trip toward Burma and, later, a second trip along the eastern coast of the Gulf toward Cambodia. “Our strategy was to stay very close to the coast and stop at fishing villages [and] talk with local fishermen,” says Jeffries.

As in previous trips to Thailand, Jeffries and Voris worked with Thai students. They spoke to a graduate biogeography class and offered a seminar on the Octolasmis research.

“Our trip was quite successful in that we were able to make many contacts within the Thai scientific community as well as in the fishing industry and, thereby, build a foundation for future research,” Jeffries notes. “The Thais are a friendly and industrious people, and they are eager to collaborate and learn with us.”

In the aftermath of the Dec. 26 tsunami, Jeffries was relieved to hear that his Thai colleagues were safe. “All of our travel was east of that [damaged] area, along the perimeter of the Gulf of Thailand.”

Jeffries’ recent trip was made possible, in part, by a Dickinson College Research and Development grant.

“I’m very grateful, I truly am, [to this] institution—it makes it all possible for people like me,” he says. And, though retired, Dickinson has provided him research space. Of his continuing opportunities, Jeffries observes, “There aren’t many retirees who have the energy and enthusiasm to do this, but I’m lucky enough to have both.”

Through this research Jeffries believes that he and Voris “have been able to add, in very substantial ways, to man’s knowledge of these organisms.”

He adds, “The response [to the Web site] from our colleagues around the country has been very gratifying. In our field of study, published research papers address a small percentage of the academic community, so why not create a Web site and share our knowledge of these little-known barnacles with as large an audience as possible?” •

For more information, go to: www.fieldmuseum.org/barnacles/

 


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