Dr. Michael Middlebrooks grew up in Northeast Florida discovering the wonders of nature in Florida’s coastal and aquatic ecosystems. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Florida State University and a PhD in Integrative Biology from the University of South Florida. He is a passionate underwater explorer and avid scuba diver. He became a scuba instructor at age 20 and takes every opportunity he can to dive in new locations. Although he enjoys seeing large marine life, it is discovering the tiny and bizarre creatures that Michael finds most exciting. He has been scuba diving in many locations all around the planet, including the Caribbean, the Great Barrier Reef, Raja Ampat, the Sulu Sea, The Red Sea, and Oceania looking for sea slugs and other mollusks.
Michael works as an Invertebrate Zoologist at the University of Tampa where he teaches students about the amazing diversity of the invertebrate animals. He particularly enjoys teaching students how to discover the hidden invertebrates lurking in every habitat. His research lab is composed entirely of undergraduate students who work with him on a variety of invertebrate focused projects. In 2017 the University of Tampa recognized him with the Outstanding Student Research Supervision Award.
Michael’s research focuses on the ecology of sea slugs, a group called sacoglossans in particular. Amazingly a number of sacoglossan species are actually solar powered! These slugs are able to steal the chloroplasts from the algae they eat and then use them to produce their own food using photosynthesis. Michael studies how these animals interact with their algal food and the environment in which they live. He also studies their behavior and how these shell-less animals are able to protect themselves from predators. He has recently published papers on how the diet of these photosynthetic slugs varies across the Caribbean and how their populations are affected by hurricanes. Most of all, however, he enjoys sharing these wonderful animals with people and their reactions when they realize how beautiful and diverse sea slugs truly are.
Michael will be here in mid October to share his knowledge on one of Saba's smaller critters, the lettuce sea slug. Find out what makes these solar slugs so special!