In 1969 I left New York with dreams of becoming a marine ichthyologist while pursuing a Master’s degree in Marine Biology at the University of Delaware. However, the only research assistantship available at the time was to work with Jack Gallagher whose doctoral work was studying the primary production rates of sediment-associated (i.e. edaphic) algae in salt marshes. He was not foolish enough to attempt to identify the algal species in his sediment cores so guess who got this job? Correct! I reluctantly took up the task and soon made weekly pilgrimages to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia to work with Drs Reimer and Patrick. The diatom flora of salt marsh sediments was almost as unknown to Charlie as it was to me. Within a short period of time I became a devoted student of the diatoms and the rest is history. As I liked to always tell my students serendipity can sometimes lead to a highly productive and enjoyable career.

After finishing my Ph.D. in Marine Biology at the University of Delaware I headed to the Deep South to take a position as an Assistant Professor of Biology at Mississippi State University. My initial work concentrated on the taxonomy (species level) and ecology of edaphic salt marsh diatoms. I was greatly influenced by the pioneering research of C. David McIntire of Oregon State University who was the first to employ multivariate statistics to study the relationships between the distribution of benthic marine diatoms and environmental factors. Rather than being impressed by the degree of variation one could account for using an array of statistical methods I was most struck by the extent to which diatom distribution might be stochastic or random and therefore not predictable as Dave had written. After reading the early papers of Evelyn Haines at the University of Georgia which bravely challenged the long-standing dogma that salt marsh food webs were essentially fueled by carbon from the vascular plant Spartina alterniflora after it died and decomposed, I turned my research focus to the trophic importance of edaphic diatoms to salt marsh food webs using stable isotope analyses. To make a long story short the data showed that the major contributors of carbon to higher trophic levels in salt marshes were the microscopic edaphic diatoms (and hence the quote above). We later went through this entire progression of research for diatoms epiphytic on seagrass leaves with the exact same findings. After 30 years I retired from MSU and then spent 3 years at Florida State University and then 5 years teaching high school biology and environmental science at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School where some of my students did science fair projects on algal distribution and taxonomy. A few years after I retired serendipity struck again when Tom Frankovich sent me a slide with diatoms that were completely unknown to him but it immediately dredged up memories for me of papers written by Robert Holmes on diatoms attached to porpoises. This began a wonderful collaboration of epizoic diatoms which I have enjoyed immensely. Thank you, Tom for including me in your fascinating research program!

Species reviewed

Amicula vermiculata