California Academy of Sciences - To Explore, Explain, and Protect the Natural World

Gary C. Williams

Associate Curator
Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology

B.A., University of California, Berkeley (1972); M.A., San Francisco State University (1975); Ph.D., University of Cape Town (1987). Curator of Coelenterates, South African Museum (1983-89). Chairman, Department of Marine Biology, South African Museum (1987-89). Scientific Editor, Sagittarius, Natural History Magazine of the South African Museum (1986-89). Research Associate, California Academy of Sciences (1987-90). Post-Doctoral Fellow (1990-91). Assistant Curator (1991-94). Associate Curator (1994- ). Chairman, Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology (1995-98). Fellow: Linnean Society of London; California Academy of Sciences. Member: American Association for the Advancement of Science; Linnean Society of London.

A broad interest in natural history developed during childhood, in a relatively uncrowded San Francisco Bay Area - before the enormous influx of human population that extinguished much of the open space and altered the regional biodiversity forever. An early interest in marine life was influenced by two enthusiastic marine biologists - Dr. Gordon Chan (College of Marin Biology Instructor) and Dusty Chivers (Senior Curatorial Assistant in the Academy's Department of Invertebrate Zoology).

Octocorallian coelenterates include some of the most beautiful and morphologically diverse animals in the world's oceans - these are the soft corals, sea fans, and sea pens. They are a group of corals characterized by having eight feathery tentacles surrounding the mouth of each polyp. Due to a paucity of good characters and the great phenotypic variability of species, octocoral systematics has traditionally been difficult and disputatious - partly explaining why there is a corresponding paucity of octocoral systematists! Other factors that make the field challenging include the extreme difference in appearance between live and preserved material, and the poor attention to detail in much of the older descriptive literature.

My current field research program is focused on coral reefs of the tropical western Pacific, particularly Melanesia, the Philippines, and Micronesia. Other research interests have taken me to the Galàpagos Islands, Patagonia, Southern Africa, the Russian Far East, Antarctica, and the subarctic. Scuba diving is essential to my field research since the highest diversity of octocorals is between 5 and 35 meters in depth. Soft corals are most abundant on shallow reef flats, while sea fans are more abundant on slopes and walls. In addition, sea pens are encountered mostly at night in sandy areas.

My research interests include the systematics of soft corals, gorgonians, and pennatulaceans. I am currently exploring the phylogenetic relationships of sea pens as part of an overall project, "A synthesis of knowledge of sea pens of world seas." This large long-term project includes "Index Pennatulacea," a comprehensive bibliography and indexes of the sea pens of the world from 1469 to 1999, with a synopsis of the history of research regarding the Octocorallia.

Williams, G.C. 1995. Living genera of sea pens (Coelenterata: Octocorallia: Pennatulacea): illustrated key and synopses. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 113: 93-140.

___________. 1995. The enigmatic sea pen genus Gyrophyllum - a phylogenetic reassessment and description of G. sibogae from Tasmanian waters (Coelenterata: Octocorallia). Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 48 (15): 315-328.

___________. 1995. Revision of the pennatulacean genus Sarcoptilus (Coelenterata: Octocorallia), with descriptions of three new species from southern Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum 28(1): 13-32.

T.M. Gosliner, D.W. Behrens, G. C. Williams. 1996. Coral reef animals of the Indo-Pacific - animal life from Africa to Hawai'i exclusive of the invertebrates. Monterey: Sea Challengers, 314 pp.

Williams, G.C. 1997. Preliminary assessment of the phylogenetics of pennatulacean octocorals, with a reevaluation of Ediacaran frond-like fossils, and a synthesis of the history of evolutionary thought regarding the sea pens. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of Coelenterate Biology: 497-509.

-----------------. 1997. A new genus and species of nephtheid soft coral (Octocorallia: Alcyonacea) from the western Pacific Ocean, and a discussion of convergence with several deep-sea benthic organisms. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 49(12): 423-437.

-----------------. 1999. Index Pennatulacea - annotated bibliography with indexes of the sea pens of the world 1469-1999 (Coelenterata: Octocorallia). Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 51 (2): 19-102.

Williams, G. C and P. Alderslade. 1999. A revision of the western Pacific soft coral genus Minabea (Octocorallia: Alcyoniidae), with descriptions of a related new genus and species from the Indo-Pacific. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 51 (6).

Williams, G.C. 1999. A new genus and species of stoloniferous octocoral (Anthozoa: Clavulariidae) from the Pacific coast of North America. Zoologische Mededelingen, Leiden.