The Echinoderm Tree of Life Project (EchinoToL)
was completed in 2015

This collaborative research project resolved the phylogenetic placement of echinoderms within the tree of life and clarified important relationships among major echinoderm lineages using data from genetic sequencing and anatomy.

This website contains archived information about the original EchinoToL project and its participants from institutions across the U.S.

The website will be updated and migrated to a new UCSD server in June 2020. New material will focus on general echinoderm updates and active echinoderm projects at the Scripps Institution of Oceanograph at the University of California San Diego.

EchinoToL was conducted under the following NSF awards for “Collaborative Research: Assembling the Echinoderm Tree of Life”:

  • NSF DEB 1036368: Principal Investigator Gregory Rouse, SIO, University of California San Diego
  • NSF DEB 1036219: Principal Investigator Charles Messing, Nova Southeastern University
  • NSF DEB 1036229: Principal Investigator Alexander Kerr, University of Guam
  • NSF DEB 1036260: Principal Investigator Colin Sumrall, University of Tennessee Knoxville
  • NSF DEB 1036356: Principal Investigator Thomas Kammer, West Virginia University
  • NSF DEB 1036358: Principal Investigators David Foltz, Christopher Mah, Louisiana State University
  • NSF DEB 1036366: Principal Investigator Gregory Wray, Duke University
  • NSF DEB 1036370: Principal Investigator Rebecca Hunter, Abilene Christian University
  • NSF DEB 1036393: Principal Investigator Tomasz Baumiller, University of Michigan Ann Arbor
  • NSF DEB 1036416: Principal Investigators Daniel Janies, William Ausich, Ohio State University
  • NSF DEB 1322141: Principal Investigator Daniel Janies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Original Project Description

Collaborative Research: Assembling the Echinoderm Tree of Life

Echinodermata includes familiar marine organisms such as sea stars and sea urchins, as well as a wide array of extinct forms stretching back to the Cambrian Period.

Echinodermata includes 21 classes, of which only five are extant: Asteroidea (sea stars), Ophiuroidea (brittle stars), Echinoidea (sea urchins), Holothuroidea (sea cucumbers), and Crinoidea (feather stars, sea lilies). Echinoderms share a recent common ancestor with other deuterostomes, including chordates, and provide a crucial link to understanding the tree of life as a whole and the history of our species. The diversity of echinoderm body plans, their various larval ecologies, drastic metamorphosis, and their sister taxon relationship to chordates make echinoderms important models in a variety of comparative disciplines. However, the reliability of echinoderms as a model system can easily undermined by their unresolved phylogeny.

To better understand the phylogeny of Echinodermata, we have built a team to consider the fossil and the living echinoderms together. This project brings together experts from around the world within paleontology, genomics, informatics, developmental biology, anatomy, and phylogenetics. The long-term impacts of the echinoderm tree of life will be embodied in publications and other research products that provide a resource to researchers and educators that use the tree of life and the underlying data.