Dr. Kelly Dorgan
Senior Marine Scientist, DISL
Assistant Professor of Marine Sciences
University of South Alabama
Ph.D., 2007, University of Maine
Benthic ecology; biomechanics of burrowing;
biological-physical interactions; functional morphology and physiology of
I study how worms and other benthic organisms interact with their
environments. Burrowing animals are ecologically important, both in trophic
dynamics and as ecosystem engineers, dramatically altering their physical and
chemical environments. My research focuses on the diverse morphologies and
behaviors of burrowing animals, the biomechanics of burrowing in muds and sands,
and the mechanical properties of sediments.
Because the opacity of
sediments (mud and sand) limits direct observation, I use tools from engineering
and physics to develop new methods and integrate theory, modeling and
experiments. Marine muds behave elastically due to the gel-like organic material
that fills spaces between the grains, and I have shown that worms extend burrows
by fracturing this organic matrix. Sands are non-cohesive granular materials
that differ mechanically from cohesive muds. Burrowers exhibit different
behaviors based on body size and sediment properties. These differences have
implications for species distributions and interactions.
joined the DISL faculty this fall, I am looking forward to exploring burrowing
fauna and their environments in Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. I am
particularly interested in developing new methods to measure sediment properties
and characterize habitats to address questions such as how benthic microalgae
and bacteria alter sediments as habitats for larger organisms. Potential
projects in my lab could include sub-lethal effects of hypoxia and pollutants
(such as oil) on worm behaviors and sediment structure, interactions between
bottom boundary layer flow and sediment structure or seagrass beds, and how
burrowing behaviors mix sediments, resulting in bioturbation.
Recent Publications (*undergraduate student I mentored)
Law, C.J.*, K.M. Dorgan, and G.W. Rouse. In review. Relating
divergence in musculature within Opheliidae (Annelida) with different burrowing
behaviors. Journal of Morphology.
C.J. Law*, and G.W. Rouse. 2013. Meandering worms: Mechanics of undulatory
burrowing in muds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280(1757):
Law, C.J.*, K.M. Dorgan, and G.W.
Rouse. 2013. Validation of three sympatric Thoracophelia species
(Annelida: Opheliidae) from Dillon Beach, CA using mitochondrial and nuclear DNA
sequence data. Zootaxa 3608 (1): 067–074.
K.M., S. Lefebvre, J.H. Stillman, M.A.R. Koehl. 2011. Energetics of
burrowing by the cirratulid polychaete, Cirriformia moorei. Journal
of Experimental Biology 214: 2202-2214.
Denny, M., K.M.
Dorgan, D. Evangelista, A. Hettinger, J. Leichter, W. Ruder, I. Tuval.
2011. Anchor ice and benthic disturbance in shallow Antarctic waters:
Interspecific variation in initiation and propagation of ice crystals. Biological Bulletin 221(2). **Editor’s pick and cover
Johnson, B.D., M. Barry, B.P. Boudreau, P.A. Jumars, K.M. Dorgan. 2011. In Situ Tensile Fracture Toughness of
Surficial Cohesive Marine Sediments. Geo-Marine Letters. DOI:
Murphy, E.A.K.*, K.M. Dorgan.
2011. Burrow extension with a proboscis: Mechanics of burrowing by the glycerid, Hemipodus simplex. Journal of Experimental Biology 214:
Che, J.*, K.M. Dorgan. 2010. Mechanics and
kinematics of backward burrowing by the polychaete, Cirriformia moorei.
Journal of Experimental Biology 213: 4272-4277.
K.M. 2010. Environmental constraints on the mechanics of crawling and
burrowing using hydrostatic skeletons. Journal of Experimental
Mechanics 50(9): 1373-1381. DOI: 10.1007/s11340-010-9399-2
and K.M. Dorgan. 2010. It’s tough to be small: Dependence of
burrowing kinematics on body size. Journal of Experimental Biology 213:
**featured article in “Inside
Dorgan, K.M., S.R. Arwade, and P.A.
Jumars. 2008. Worms as wedges: Effects of the mechanical properties of the
medium on burrowing behavior. Journal of Marine Research 66(2):
Dorgan, K.M., S.R. Arwade, and P.A.
Jumars. 2007. Burrowing in muddy sediments by crack propagation: forces and
kinematics. Journal of Experimental Biology 210: 4198-4212. **F-1000recommended (Summers A: 2008.
Jumars, P.A., K.M. Dorgan, L.M.
Mayer, B.P. Boudreau and B.D. Johnson. 2007. Physical constraints on infaunal
lifestyles: May the persistent and strong forces be with you. In: W. Miller,
III, Ed. Trace Fossils: Concepts, Problems, Prospects. Elsevier, pp.
Dorgan, K.M., P.A. Jumars, B.P. Boudreau and
B.D. Johnson. 2006. Macrofaunal burrowing: The medium is the message. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 44:
Boudreau, B.P., Algar, C., Johnson, B., Croudace, I., Reed, A., Dorgan, K.M., Jumars, P.A., Grader, A.S., Gardiner, B.S., and
Y. Furukawa. 2005. Bubble growth and rise in soft sediments. Geology 33 (6): 517-520.
Dorgan, K.M., P.A. Jumars, B. Johnson,
B.P. Boudreau, and E. Landis. 2005. Burrow extension by crack propagation. Nature 433: 475. **ASLO Lindeman award
Dorgan, K.M., A. Valdes, and T.M.
Gosliner. 2002. Phylogenetic systematics of the genus Platydoris (Mollusca, Nudibranchia, Doridoidea) with descriptions of six new species. Zoologica Scripta 31: 271-319.