Les Watling

Graduate Chair


Biology of Deep-sea Octocorals and Their Associates, Biology of Crustacea, and Conservation Studies



Edm 312


(808) 956-8621


(808) 956-9812

Research Interests

I am interested in the taxonomy, biogeography, ecology, and reproduction of deep-sea octocorals. For the most part my samples have come from seamounts in the North Atlantic Ocean but my research is expanding to cover seamounts and island slopes in the Hawaiian and nearby areas. My colleagues and I are particularly interested in the modes of dispersal of these animals, their long-term evolutionary history, and their relationships to deep ocean water masses. Deep-sea octocorals are also home to a variety of smaller invertebrates. I am interested in how these relationships develop and are maintained. Because these animals live at depths that are accessible only by submersible or remotely operated vehicles, much of what is known has to be gained by inference. We examine closely the bodies of the commensals for clues to their roles in these relationships.

I have spent most of my career studying marine crustaceans, especially those in the Superorder Peracarida. I am especially interested in the phylogeny of this group, its relationship to other malacostracans, and in finding molecular and morphological evidence that can be used to determine whether this old superorder is a taxonomic artifact or is monophyletic. Additional studies are ongoing on functional morphology of a variety of crustaceans including one deep-sea shrimp that uses a novel mode of pleopod locomotion. And lastly, I have described many new crustacean species and am actively working on the small order Cumacea with a view to producing a modern revision of all the known genera.

I have been involved for about a decade in activities that are specifically related to reduction of human impacts on the marine environment. Most of this work has focused on limiting bottom trawling on continental shelves and banning it altogether in the deep sea. I work with non-governmental organizations (NGO), providing them with information they can use in their campaigns. I believe that scientists can play an important role in marine conservation by providing NGOs with the best and latest scientific information, and by occasionally providing information or testimony directly to government regulators. Since arriving in Hawaii I have not yet become directly involved in conservation issues here but am willing to support a student whose research is of interest to local regulatory agencies.

Selected Publications

Watling, L., J. Guinotte, M. Clark, C. Smith. In prep. A proposed biogeography of the deep sea.

Watling, L. in press. Chapter 8, Feeding and Digestive System. In, Watling, L. & M. Thiel (eds.) The Natural History of Crustacea, vol. 1. Oxford University Press.

Thomas, J.D. & L. Watling, in press. A new species of didymocheliid amphipod from the Straits of Florida. Bulletin of the Yale Peabody Museum