Kelly Dorgan, Ph.D.

Senior Marine Scientist II, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

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


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.

Who We Are

Erin Kiskaddon photo

Erin Kiskaddon, - Lab Manager/ Technician - BS, Biology, Whitman College - Masters, Biology, University of South Florida

Will Ballentine photo

Will Balentin, Technician - BA, Biology, Florida State University - Research interests include benthic meiofauna and benchic organisms.

Cy Clemo Photo

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 photo

Kara Gadeken, Ph.D. student - Studies how changing oxygen availability effects sediment organisms.

Ryan Parker photo

Ryan Parker, Masters student - Studies the impacts of oil on bioturbation.

Sarah Cole photo

Sarah Cole, Masters student - Studies infestation of mudblister worms on commercially grown oysters.



  • Gadeken, K., W. Clemo, K.M. Dorgan, M. Fung, W. Ballintine, A. Hagemayer, S. Dykstra* and B. Dzwonkowski. Transport of biodeposits and benthic footprint around an oyster farm, Damariscotta Estuary, Maine. PeerJ.
  • Dorgan, K.M., R. D. Moseley, E. Titus, H. Watson, S.M. Cole, and W. Walton. Dynamics of Mud Blister Worm Infestation and Shell Repair by Oysters. Biol. Bull. 240 (118–131).


  • Cole, S.M., K.M. Dorgan, W. Walton, B. Dzwonkowski and J. Coogan*. Seasonal and spatial patterns of mudblister worm Polydora websteri infestation of farmed oysters in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Aquaculture Environment Interactions. 12, 297-314.


  • Dorgan, K.M., R. Parker, R., W. Ballentine, S.K. Berke, E. Kiskaddon, K. Gadeken, E. Weldin, W.C. Clemo, T. Caffray, S. Budai, A. Robertson, and S. Bell. Sublethal effects of oil exposure on infaunal behavior, bioturbation, and sediment oxygen consumption. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 635(9-24).
  • Dorgan, K.M., W. Ballentine*, G. Lockridge, M. Ballard, K. Lee, P. Wilson. Impacts of simulated infaunal activities on acoustic wave propagation in sediments. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Vol. 147(2).


  • Jacquot, M.P., K.M. Dorgan, B. Mortazavi, A.A. Kleinhuizen, and W.C. Clemo. Macrobenthic community structure and influence on denitrification capacity in soft sediments (Mobile Bay, Alabama, USA). Marine Ecology Progress Series, 605(17-35).
  • Dorgan, K.M. Kinematics of burrowing by peristalsis in granular sands. Journal of Experimental Biology 221. jeb167759.


  • Clemo, W.C., and K.M. Dorgan. Functional morphology of Eunicidan (Polychaeta) Jaws. Biological Bulletin 233 (227-241).


  • Dorgan, K.M., C. D’Amelio*, S.M Lindsay. Strategies of burrowing in soft muds by diverse polychaetes. Invertebrate Biology 135(4). pp. 287-301.



  • Law, C.J., K.M. Dorgan, and G.W. Rouse. Relating divergence in polychaete musculature to different burrowing behaviors, a study using Opheliidae (Annelida). Journal of Morphology 275(5), 548-571.
  • Francoeur, A.A., K.M. Dorgan. Burrowing behavior in mud and sand of morphologically divergent polychaete species (Annelida, Orbiniidae). Biological Bulletin 226 (131 -145).


  • Dorgan, K.M., C.J. Law, and G.W. Rouse. Meandering worms: Mechanics of undulatory burrowing in muds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280(1757). 20122948; 1471 -2954.
  • 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. Zootaxa 3608 (1). 067–074.


  • Denny, M., K.M. Dorgan, D. Evangelista, A. Hettinger, J. Leichter, W. Ruder, I. Tuval. 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 image.
  • Dorgan, K.M., S. Lefebvre, J.H. Stillman, M.A.R. Koehl. Energetics of burrowing by the cirratulid polychaete, Cirriformia moorei. Journal of Experimental Biology 214 (2202 -2214).
  • Murphy, E.A.K., K.M. Dorgan. Burrow extension with a proboscis- Mechanics of burrowing by the glycerid, Hemipodus simplex. Journal of Experimental Biology 214. 1017 -1027.


  • Che, J., K.M. Dorgan. Mechanics and kinematics of backward burrowing by the polychaete, Cirriformia moorei. Journal of Experimental Biology 213. 4272 -4277.
  • Dorgan, K.M.. Environmental constraints on the mechanics of crawling and burrowing using hydrostatic skeletons. Journal of Experimental Mechanics 50(9). 1373-1381.
  • Che, J. and K.M. Dorgan. It’s tough to be small- Dependence of burrowing kinematics on body size. Journal of Experimental Biology 213. 1241 -1250. **Featured article in 'Inside JEB'


  • Dorgan, K.M., S.R. Arwade, and P.A. Jumars. Worms as wedges- Effects of the mechanical properties of the medium on burrowing behavior. Journal of Marine Research 66(2). 219 -254.


  • Dorgan, K.M., S.R. Arwade, and P.A. Jumars. Burrowing in muddy sediments by crack propagation, forces and kinematics. Journal of Experimental Biology 210. 4198-4212.
  • Jumars, P.A., K.M. Dorgan, L.M. Mayer, B.P. Boudreau and B.D. Johnson. 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. 442-457.


  • Dorgan, K.M., P.A. Jumars, B.P. Boudreau and B.D. Johnson. Macrofaunal burrowing- The medium is the message. Oceanography and Marine Biology, An Annual Review 44. 85 -121.


  • 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. Geology 33 (6). 517 -520.
  • Dorgan, K.M., P.A. Jumars, B. Johnson, B.P. Boudreau, and E. Landis. Burrow extension by crack propagation. Nature 433. 475.


  • Dorgan, K.M., A. Valdes, and T.M. Gosliner. Phylogenetic systematics of the genus Platydoris (Mollusca, Nudibranchia, Doridoidea) with descriptions of six new species. Zoologica Scripta 31. 271 -319.