Kelly Dorgan, Ph.D.

Kelly Dorgan, Ph.D.

Senior Marine Scientist I

Assistant Professor of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama


Dr. Kelly Dorgan joined the faculty at Dauphin Island Sea Lab in the fall of 2013.  Dr. Dorgan is particularly interested in how benthic microalgae and bacteria alter sediment habitats for larger organisms and in developing new methods to measure sediment properties on the small scales of burrowing animals. Potential projects in her lab 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.


2007 Ph.D. University of Maine

Research Interest

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.



  • 2014 - In Press

    Jumars, P.A., *K.M. Dorgan*, S.M. Lindsay.. Diet of worms emended: An update of Polychaete feeding guilds.

  • 2014

    Law, C.J., K.M. Dorgan, and G.W. Rouse.. Relating divergence in polychaete musculature to different burrowing behaviors: a study using Opheliidae (Annelida).

  • Francoeur, A.A.*, *K.M. Dorgan*.. Burrowing behavior in mud and sand of morphologically divergent polychaete species (Annelida: Orbiniidae).

  • 2013

    Law, C.J., K.M. Dorgan, and G.W. Rouse.. Validation of three sympatric Thoracophelia species (Annelida: Opheliidae) from Dillon Beach, CA using mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data.

  • Dorgan, K.M., C.J. Law, and G.W. Rouse.. Meandering worms: Mechanics of undulatory burrowing in muds.

  • 2011

    Dorgan, K.M., S. Lefebvre, J.H. Stillman, M.A.R. Koehl.. Energetics of burrowing by the cirratulid polychaete, Cirriformia moorei.

  • 2010

    Dorgan, K.M.. Environmental constraints on the mechanics of crawling and burrowing using hydrostatic skeletons.

  • 2008

    Dorgan, K.M., S.R. Arwade, and P.A. Jumars.. Worms as wedges: Effects of the mechanical properties of the medium on burrowing behavior.

  • 2007

    Dorgan, K.M., S.R. Arwade, and P.A. Jumars.. Burrowing in muddy sediments by crack propagation: forces and kinematics.

  • 2006

    Dorgan, K.M., P.A. Jumars, B.P. Boudreau and B.D. Johnson.. Macrofaunal burrowing: The medium is the message.

  • 2005

    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.. Bubble growth and rise in soft sediments.

  • Dorgan, K.M., P.A. Jumars, B. Johnson, B.P. Boudreau, and E. Landis.. Burrow extension by crack propagation.

  • 2002

    Dorgan, K.M., A. Valdes, and T.M. Gosliner.. Phylogenetic systematics of the genus Platydoris (Mollusca, Nudibranchia, Doridoidea) with descriptions of six new species.

Who We Are

Erin Kiskaddon,
Lab Manager/ Technician

BS, Biology, Whitman College
Masters, Biology, University of South Florida

Will Balentin, Technician

BA, Biology, Florida State University
Research interests include benthic meiofauna and benchic organisms.

Cy Clemo, Ph.D. student

Interested in the role sediment mechanical properties play in the recovery of benthic infaunal communities (burrowing invertebrate animals and their habitat) following physical disturbance to the sea floor (e.g. storms, trawls).

Kara Gadeken, Ph.D. student

Studies how changing oxygen availability effects sediment organisms.

Ryan Parker, Masters student

Studies the impacts of oil on bioturbation.

Sarah Cole, Masters student

Studies infestation of mudblister worms on commercially grown oysters.

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