"ARTS: Collaborative Research: Taxonomy and systematics of selected Neotropical clades of arachnids"

PIs: Gustavo Hormiga (GWU) and Gonzalo Giribet (Harvard)

Funding: National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology (Systematics and Biodiversity Science): DEB 1144492 and 114417

The main goals of this project are to carry out taxonomic revisions of several clades across selected Neotropical taxa in two arachnid orders (Araneae and Opiliones) and to train three doctoral students in systematics and monography. In training the students we use a multidisciplinary approach involving morphology and DNA sequencing components designed to provide our trainees with broad research opportunities. We are also carrying out extensive work on museum collections, bioinformatics and an ambitious, but feasible, fieldwork program. The Neotropical groups that we have targeted in this proposal are mainly leaf litter inhabitants (except for mimetids), grossly understudied, and provide excellent research and training opportunities in modern monography and systematics. Their overlapping geographic distributions allow us to effectively collect the target taxa in joint expeditions. Building a taxonomic taskforce capable of efficiently tackling the description and explanation of biodiversity across multiple lineages remains one of the most pressing challenges of systematics. In the terrestrial ecosystems of the tropical regions arthropods epitomize the taxonomic dimension of the so called “biodiversity crisis.” For example, for one of the chosen groups, the Opiliones family Neogoveidae, there are 10 spp. described for the Neotropics, while at least 40 remain in collections to be formally described and many more have probably never been collected. Understanding biodiversity requires a more in depth knowledge of the taxonomic patterns of hyperdiverse taxa than we currently have, and in the metazoan branch of the tree of life, this task requires a much more fine scale knowledge of most arthropod groups, including arachnids.

Project goals

i. To carry out taxonomic revisions of selected clades in the arachnid orders Araneae and Opiliones. We envision our monographs as providing the fundamental empirical model for hypothesis testing about species and their geographic distributions, character evolution and phylogenetic relationships.

ii. We are broadly training a new generation of systematists on selected understudied natural groups of Neotropical arachnids (Araneae and Opiliones). So far this project is supporting two doctoral students in systematics and provides research experiences to undergraduates as well. We are carrying fieldwork in selected areas of the Neotropical region to train the students in field methods and to collect our target taxa. We are also studying the relevant museum collections and expanding our existing partnerships with researchers and institutions abroad.

iii. We are using a multi-ordinal approach by which each Ph.D. trainee is specializing in one taxonomic group (e.g., a family of Araneae) but will also carrying a small project of a group in a different arachnid order (e.g., a revision of a small clade of Opiliones) to broaden and diversify their organismal expertise.

IV. We are producing phylogenetic hypotheses of the studied groups at various hierarchical levels using both morphological and sequence data from multiple loci and to produce biogeographic hypotheses for selected groups by testing questions of vicariance vs. dispersal, reconstructing ancestral areas, and proposing small-scale patterns of relationships between areas of endemism.

V. To disseminate our work using high impact portals such as Encyclopedia of Life and the Tree of Life. We will develop online interactive identification tools for the groups that we monograph. The specimens resulting from our fieldwork will be databased and accessioned in museum collections, at the MCZ in Harvard, and at their countries of origin.


Gustavo Hormiga, GWU, PI. Systematics of Malkaridae, Linyphiidae, Mimetidae (Araneae).

Gonzalo Giribet, HU, PI. Systematics of Neogoveidae (Opiliones),

Nikolaj Scharff University of Copenhagen, Natural History Museum of Denmark, Denmark. Senior Collaborator. Systematics of Malkaridae, (Araneae).

Ligia Benavides, Ph.D. student, GWU. Systematics of Mimetidae and revision of Gelanor (Araneae)

Thiago da Silva-Moreira, Ph.D. student, GWU. Systematics of Linyphiidae and revision of “Dubiaranea” complex (Araneae)


Research and training progress

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