Research Interests

The role of biological diversity in maintaining ecosystems is prominent in environmental change science and policy. My research focuses on the biodiversity of the smallest (< 1 mm) animals on earth, collectively known as meiofauna. Meiofauna encompass an extremely broad and diverse set of creatures of almost all animal phyla that inhabit a variety of ecosystems. They are found in the marine sediments, freshwater wetlands, ponds and streams, brackish marshes, and even in soil within mosses and lichens.

Such organisms are important contributors to ecosystem functioning through their roles in nutrient cycling, sediment stability, and food web interactions. They can be used to assess the trophic relationship between smaller organisms (prokaryotes, fungi, diatoms) and larger invertebrates or fish, understand the effect of changing climate and disturbance on biodiversity, and for biomonitoring of environmental pollution.

My research benefits of an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach. I aim to integrate field investigation, classical and modern methods in biology, bioinformatics, biostatistics, and mathematical modeling to characterize different dimensions of biodiversity and disturbance responses in populations and communities of meiofauna across ecosystems.

In my lab, we aim to address the following questions: what and how many species are found in a particular habitat? How are such species phylogenetically and ecologically related? What are their functional and ecological roles in the ecosystem? How have they adapted to their environment?  

My lab embraces creativity and intellectual freedom, stimulates interdisciplinary collaborations, exposes students to wide-ranging research opportunities highlighting scientific contributions of individuals from diverse backgrounds, and fosters diversity and inclusion. We have a zero-tolerance policy regarding any form of discrimination.



Leasi F. (PI) Development and application of bioinformatics pipelines and theoretical models to predict microbiome biodiversity in response to environmental stressors. Center of Excellence in Applied Computational Science & Engineering (CEACSE) UTC. August 2018; $24,905.

Leasi F. (PI) Meiofauna diversity in Panama. Global Genome Initiative, Smithsonian Institution. GGI-Rolling-2015-020. October 2016; $30,000.



Leasi F, Sevigny J, Laflamme EM, Artois T, Curini-Galletti M, de Jesus Navarrete A, Di Domenico M, Goetz F, Hall JA, Hochberg R, Jörger KM, Jondelius U, Todaro MA, Wirshing HH, Norenburg JL, Thomas WK (2018) Biodiversity estimates and ecological interpretations of meiofaunal communities are biased by the taxonomic approach. Communications Biology 1: 112. DOI: 10.1038/s42003-018-0119-2.

Dal Zotto M, Leasi F, Todaro MA (2018) A new species of Turbanellidae (Gastrotricha, Macrodasyida) from Jamaica, with a key to species of Paraturbanella. Zookeys 734: 105-119. 734: 105-119. DOI:10.3897/zookeys.734.23023.

Mills S, Alcántara-Rodríguez JA, Ciros-Pérez J, Gómez A, Hagiwara A, Galindo KH, Jersabek CD, Malekzadeh-Viayeh R, Leasi F, Lee JS, Mark Welch DB, Papakostas S, Riss S, Segers H, Serra M, Shiel R, Smolak R, Snell TW, Stelzer CP, Tang CQ, Wallace RL, Fontaneto D, Walsh EJ (2017) Fifteen species in one: deciphering the Brachionus plicatilis species complex (Rotifera, Monogononta) through DNA taxonomy. Hydrobiologia 796: 39-58. DOI:10.1007/s10750-016-2725-7.

Scarpa F, Cossu P, Delogu V, Lai T, Sanna D, Leasi F, Norenburg JL, Curini-Galletti M (2017) Molecular support for morphology-based family-rank taxa: the contrasting cases of the Meidiamidae and the Otomesostomidae (Platyhelminthes: Proseriata). Zoologica Scripta 46: 753-766. DOI:10.1111/zsc.12251.

Hochberg R, Todaro MA, Araujo TQ, Atherton S, Balsamo M, Chang CY, Di Domenico M, Garraffoni AR, Guidi L, Känneby T, Kieneke A, Kirk JJ, Leasi F, Lee JM, Nesteruk T, Dal Zotto M, Bownes SJ, Cesaroni L, Kim JL, Münter L, Perissinotto R (2017) A Tribute to William Hummon – Gastrotrich Biologist Extraordinaire. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 130: 113-119. DOI:10.2988/17-00017.

Leasi F, Andrade S, Norenburg JL (2016) At least some meiofaunal species are not everywhere. Indication of geographic, ecological and geological barriers affecting the dispersion of species of Ototyphlonemertes (Nemertea, Hoplonemertea). Molecular Ecology 25:1381-1397. DOI:10.1111/mec.13568.

Leasi F, Gaynus C, Mahardini A, Moore NT, Norenburg JL, Barber HP (2016) Spatial and ecological distribution of neglected microinvertebrate communities across endangered ecosystems: Meiofauna in Bali (Indonesia). Marine Ecology 37: 970-987. DOI:10.1111/maec.12305.

Todaro MA, Dal Zotto M, Leasi F (2015) An integrated morphological and molecular approach to the description and systematisation of a novel genus and species of Macrodasyida (Gastrotricha). PLoS ONE 10: e0130278. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0130278.

Leasi F, Norenburg JL (2014) The necessity of DNA taxonomy to reveal cryptic diversity and spatial distribution of meiofauna, with a focus on Nemertea. PLoS ONE 9(8): e104385. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0104385.

Todaro MA, Leasi F, Hochberg R (2014) A new species, genus and family of marine Gastrotricha from Jamaica, with a phylogenetic analysis of Macrodasyida based on the 18S rDNA gene. Systematics and Biodiversity 12: 473-488. DOI:10.1080/14772000.2014.942718.

Leasi F, Tang CQ, De Smet WH, Fontaneto D (2013) Cryptic diversity with wide salinity tolerance in the putative euryhaline Testudinella clypeata (Rotifera, Monogononta). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 168:17-28. DOI:10.1111/zoj.12020.

Neves RC, Bailly X, Leasi F, Reichert H, Sørensen MV, Kristensen RM (2013) A complete three-dimensional reconstruction of the myoanatomy of Loricifera: comparative morphology of an adult and a Higgins larva stage. Frontiers in Zoology 10:19. DOI:10.1186/1742-9994-10-19.

Todaro MA, Leasi F (2013) A new eye-bearing Macrodasys (Gastrotricha: Macrodasyida) from Jamaica. Meiofauna Marina 20:33-38. ISSN 1611-7557.

Curini-Galletti M, Artois T, Delogu V, De Smet WH , Fontaneto D, Jondelius U, Leasi F, Martínez A, Meyer-Wachsmuth I, Nilsson KS, Tongiorgi P, Worsaae K, Todaro MA (2012) Patterns of diversity in soft-bodied meiofauna: dispersal ability and body size matter. PLoS ONE 7: e33801. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0033801.

Fontaneto D, Tang CQ, Obertegger U, Leasi F, Barraclough TG (2012) Different diversification rates between sexual and asexual organisms. Evolutionary Biology 39: 262-270. DOI:10.1007/s11692-012-9161-z.

Leasi F, Neves RC, Worsaae K, Sørensen MV (2012) Musculature of Seison nebaliae Grube, 1861 and Paraseison annulatus (Claus, 1876) revealed with CLSM - a comparative study of the gnathiferan key taxon Seisonacea (Rotifera). Zoomorphology 131: 185-195. DOI:10.1007/s00435-012-0155-2.

Leasi F, Rouse GW, Sørensen MV (2012) A new species of Paraseison (Rotifera: Seisonacea) from the coast of California, USA. Journal of the Marine Biological Association, U.K. 92: 959-965. DOI:10.1017/S0025315411000129.

Marotta R, Uggetti A, Ricci C, Leasi F, Melone G (2012) Surviving starvation: changes accompanying starvation tolerance in a bdelloid rotifer. Journal of Morphology 273:1-7. DOI:10.1002/jmor.11000.

Tang CQ, Leasi F, Obertegger U, Kieneke A, Barraclough TG, Fontaneto D (2012) The widely used small subunit 18S rDNA molecule greatly underestimates true diversity in biodiversity surveys of the meiofauna. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109: 16208-16212. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1209160109.

Boschetti C, Leasi F, Ricci C (2011) Developmental stage in diapausing eggs of monogonont rotifers. Hydrobiologia 662:149-155. DOI:10.1007/s10750-010-0490-6.

Leasi F, Ricci C (2011) The role of Serotonin in the life cycle of bdelloids. Hydrobiologia 662:141-147. DOI:10.1007/s10750-010-0489-z.

Leasi F, Fontaneto D, Melone G (2010) Phylogenetic constraints in the muscular system of rotifer males. Investigation on the musculature of males versus females of Brachionus manjavacas and Epiphanes senta (Rotifera, Monogononta). Journal of Zoology 282:109–119. DOI:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2010.00721.x

Leasi F, Ricci C (2010) Musculature of two bdelloid rotifers, Macrotrachela quadricornifera and Adineta ricciae: organisation and locomotion in a functional and evolutionary perspective. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 48:33-39. DOI:10.1111/j.1439-0469.2009.00538.x.

Leasi F, Todaro MA (2010) The gastrotrich community of a north Adriatic Sea site, with a redescription of Musellifer profundus (Chaetonotida, Muselliferidae). Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the U.K. 90:645-653. DOI:10.1017/S0025315409991068.

Marotta R, Leasi F, Uggetti A, Ricci C, Melone G (2010) Dry and survive: morphological changes during anhydrobiosis in a bdelloid rotifer. Journal of Structural Biology 171:11-17. DOI:10.1016/j.jsb.2010.04.003.

Leasi F, Pennati R, Ricci C (2009) First description of the serotonergic nervous system in a bdelloid rotifer: Macrotrachela quadricornifera Milne, 1886 (Philodinidae). Zoologischer Anzeiger 248:47–55. DOI:10.1016/j.jcz.2008.10.002.

Leasi F, Todaro MA (2009) Meiofaunal cryptic species revealed by confocal microscopy: the case of Xenotrichula intermedia (Gastrotricha). Marine Biology 156:1335–1346. DOI:10.1007/s00227-009-1175-4.

Leasi F, Todaro MA (2008) The muscular system of Musellifer delamarei (Renaud-Mornant, 1968) and other chaetonotidans with implication for the phylogeny and systematization of the Paucitubulatina (Gastrotricha). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 94:379-398. DOI:10.1111/j.1095-8312.2008.00974.x.

Leasi F, Rothe BH, Schmidt-Rhaesa A, Todaro MA (2006) The musculature of three species of gastrotrichs surveyed with Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy (CLSM). Acta Zoologica 87:171-180. DOI:10.1111/j.1463-6395.2006.00230.x. 

Leasi F, Virno-Lamberti C, Todaro MA (2006) First record of Musellifer profundus (Gastrotricha) in the Italian seas. Biologia Marina Mediterranea 13:190-191.

Todaro MA, Guidi L, Leasi F, Tongiorgi P (2006) Morphology of Xenodasys (Gastrotricha): the first species from Mediterranean Sea and the establishment of Chordodasiopsis gen. nov. and Xenodasyidae fam. nov. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the U.K. 86:1005-1015. DOI:10.1017/S0025315406013981.

Todaro MA, Leasi F (2006) Further data on the Italian marine gastrotrich fauna. Biologia Marina Mediterranea 13:1116-1120.

Todaro MA, Leasi F, Bizzarri N, Tongiorgi P (2006) Meiofauna densities and gastrotrich community composition in a Mediterranean sea cave. Marine Biology 149:1079-1091. DOI:10.1007/s00227-006-0299-z.


Books/Book Chapters

De Smet WH, Melone G, Fontaneto D, Leasi F (2015) Marine Rotifera – Fauna d’Italia Vol. L. Ed. Calderini, Bologna. Pp: 272. ISBN 978-88-506-5490-1.