Jellyfish Feature

August 2006


The Cnidarian Tree of Life project (CnidToL)

Cnidaria - Assembling the Tree of Life (CnidToL)

Cnidaria AToL (CnidTol) is a five-year, collaborative project funded by the National Science Foundation under the "Assembling the Tree of Life" program. The overall goal of CnidToL is to significantly enhance our understanding of evolution in the Phylum Cnidaria. The CnidToL project will use an integrative, multi-level approach to investigating cnidarian evolution. The CnidToL team is comprised of PIs, co-PIs and contractors from eleven laboratories at nine institutions and also includes multiple international and U.S. collaborators within the cnidarian scientific community. Through a collaborative effort, we will generate extensive molecular and morphological datasets that will be used to reconstruct phylogenetic hypothesis of cnidarian relationships. Molecular data will include mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) and 16S ribosomal DNA plus nuclear 28S ribosomal DNA; we anticipate a total of 10+ molecular markers. One aspect of morphology that will be examined in detail is the diversity of nematocysts (stinging cells); in turn the utility of these anatomical data for phylogenetic analyses will be evaluated. In addition, we will develop laboratory culture conditions for several different cnidarian species representing a broad phylogenetic sampling in an effort to develop new model organisms amenable for future in-depth developmental, life-history, and morphological studies. (See the CnidToL homepage)

Training and outreach are important components of the CnidToL project. An online database will include a catalogue of species, bibliography of literature in which they were described, inventory of type specimens, distribution maps, and images (see In addition, all of the molecular and morphological datasets generated from this project will be included in the CnidToL database. Undergraduate, graduate, post-doctoral training and outreach to K-12 educators will also be a prominent component to this project.

If you are interested in more information or want to discuss potential collaborations and/or contributions to the project, please contact the most relevant point-person listed below. A general description of the framework for collaborations on medusozoans follows the list of cnidarian personnel.

Actiniarians and nematocysts, Meg Daly,
Hexacorals, Sandra Romano,
Octocorals, Cathy McFadden,

Hydrozoans, Paulyn Cartwright,
Hydra, Daniel Martínez,

Medusozoans, Allen Collins,

Culturing new model organisms, Neil Blackstone,

Molecular marker development, Cliff Cunningham,, and Bernie Ball,

Database development, Daphne Fautin,

Data analyses, Dan Janies,

For scyphozoans, please contact Mike Dawson,



A Guide to CnidToL Collaborations: Scyphozoa

Menu:       Overview       Collecting       Sending specimens       Taxonomic scope       Expenses       Publication       Other

Overview: (back to menu)

Over the next 5 years, we aim to gather large amounts of DNA sequence data accompanied by voucher specimens to assemble as robust a phylogeny of the scyphomedusae (coronates, rhizostomes, semaeostomes) as possible, including understanding the evolution of scyphozoans relative to cubomedusae, hydromedusae, and stauromedusae. Important goals of the project are to establish collaborations that will (1) support new international projects, (2) enable the diverse taxonomic sampling essential to success of the project, and (3) develop the robust global community essential for continuing rapid progress during and after the project.

The following text provides information on the logistics of collaborating on, or contributing to, the project. It is intended as a general guide that should be sufficiently flexible to fit a variety of circumstances. If you have questions or suggestions specific to your circumstances, please write to Mike Dawson Our goal is to foster long-term, fruitful, mutually beneficial research partnerships.


Collecting specimens for the project: (back to menu)

Samples for DNA and morphological analyses are required from each species collected. The following instructions are pertinent to all scyphozoans. Please note that samples for DNA analyses must never be exposed to formalin.

If medusae are large, a small subsample of tissue (one or a few pieces, total ~10-50 cubic mm volume) can be biopsied from the specimen, then placed in a vial with excess (1 ml) 95% ethanol. The remainder of the specimen should then be placed in excess 4% formalin in ambient salinity water (i.e. seawater if it is a marine species, estuary water if it is an estuarine species).

If medusae are small, samples for DNA and morphological analyses can be taken from different individuals if you can be absolutely sure that the different individuals are the same species. Again, samples for DNA analyses should be placed in a vial with excess (1 ml) 95% ethanol; samples for morphological analysis should be placed in excess 4% formalin in ambient salinity water.

Ideally, several medusae of a range of sizes should be sampled for DNA and morphological analyses. If only one large specimen is found, it can be treated as noted above. If only one small specimen is found, it would be best if roughly one quarter of the animal (not including the mouth) is cut away and placed in 95% ethanol, with the rest placed in 4% formalin.

Please individually label each specimen with an unique identifier and include information on collection locality, GPS coordinates if available, date of collection, your name.

A small sample kit with all materials necessary for DNA preservation can be sent to you free of charge.

If possible, please take photographs of the medusae in the water and/or in tanks; photograph the whole medusae, and when possible also the fine structure of the bell, tentacles, and oral arms.

Additional instructions for sampling and photographing medusae.


Sending specimens to the US for analyses: (back to menu)

Keep the samples for at least a few weeks after collection to ensure they are well preserved. Please send ethanol-preserved samples for DNA analyses separate from formalin-preserved samples for morphological analyses.

The small vials of 95% ethanol with tissue for DNA analyses can be wrapped in a couple of plastic bags, sealed, put in a padded envelope or box, and mailed safely.

The specimens in 4% formalin should be placed in small, non-breakable (e.g. plastic bag, or plastic bottle), containers with sufficient space to fit the animal and just enough liquid to stop it getting damaged in transit. Remove all air from the container to minimize damage in transit. Make sure the container is well-sealed, then seal it another 3 times in additional bags. Pack the sample with plenty of cushioning inside a box.

Include a note in the box stating the point of origin and destination of the package, and a statement that it is a sample for scientific purposes. This will help it pass through customs easily if the package is checked by a customs officer.

All samples should be mailed to: Dr. Paulyn Cartwright, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Haworth Hall, RM 7016, 1200 Sunnyside Ave., University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, phone: 785/864-4432, fax: 785/864-5860


Taxonomic scope: (back to menu)

All species of scyphomedusae (coronates, rhizostomes, semaeostomes) plus a broad sampling of cubomedusae, hydromedusae, and stauromedusae.


Expenses: (back to menu)

CnidToL will cover moderate costs associated with sampling and shipping specimens. This can include (1) a small pre-payment of up to a few hundred US$$ if funds are needed before sampling and shipping, or (2) reimbursement of costs after sampling and shipping. Payment of costs by CnidToL will require providing a budget (for pre-payments), receipts (for reimbursements), institutional information for transfer of funds, and signing a contract with Kansas University [a formality to ensure everybody's obligations to the project are clear]. For information on pre-payments and reimbursements and the contract, please contact the CnidToL project leader Dr. Paulyn Cartwright


Publication: (back to menu)

The arrangement proposed is that each colleague and the relevant medusozoan specialist (e.g. Allen Collins, Mike Dawson, Antonio Marques) will write a manuscript describing the medusae that you contribute to the project. This most likely would take the form of a regional summary of collections or a taxonomic paper on which you would be the lead author and to which we could contribute taxonomic expertise, DNA analyses, some writing and/or figure preparation, editing, etc., as appropriate on a paper-by-paper basis. CnidToL would then also use the sequences and vouchers in analyses of higher-level taxa. Thus, if you make many collections in particular taxonomic groups, we can discuss additional co-authorships on systematic/phylogenetic papers to which those samples contribute significantly. Please feel welcome to discuss this or other appropriate arrangements with each CnidToL specialist with whom you collaborate.


Other: (back to menu)

Please ensure that you have all necessary permits for collecting and shipping samples. Please abide by postal regulations (in most cases, mailing very small quantities of ethanol and 4% formalin is OK when packed appropriately). We encourage you to also deposit specimens in 4% formalin with your regional museum. If your collaboration with CnidToL can be used to leverage additional support from your home institution or national funding agencies that will contribute to your own work and to the CnidToL project please contact us for letters of support.


If you have any questions regarding collaboration on the project or about scyphozoan jellyfishes, please do not hesitate to contact Mike Dawson


Prepared by P. Cartwright and M. N Dawson