P. Benjamin PhD
Department of Biological Sciences
George Washington University
2023 G Street. NW
Washington, D.C. 20052
Tel. Lab: (202) 994-0302
University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria, M. Sc., 1992-1999.
University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland, Ph.D. (Magna cum Laude), 1999–2003.
University of California in Berkeley, USA, Postdoctoral fellow, 2003–2004.
My research to date combines cross-disciplinary interests. Its unifying theme concerns the formulation of evolutionary conclusions using classical morphology, genes and behavioral studies.
I was born in Sri Lanka, a global biodiversity hotspot. Since, my early childhood I had to deal with the value of biodiversity as a natural resource and the realities of understanding and protecting it. As we enter the twenty-first century, we are confronted with the mass extinction of millions of plant and animal species that threatens to destroy much of the evidence of evolutionary history before it has been discovered or documented. We are the last generation with the opportunity to explore, describe and classify life on Earth entirely. In the face of this biodiversity crisis, understanding how species and species communities are formed and maintained is paramount. My primary research interests lie in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biology is fundamental to understanding processes that form and maintain biodiversity. I am particularly interested in the study of highly diverse ecosystems and how they are molded through processes like speciation and adaptive radiation.
My initial graduate research was at the University of Innsbruck investigating the spider fauna of the Sri Lanka-Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot. My thesis work looked at the biodiversity of spiders of the families Scytodidae, Tetragnathidae, Lycosidae and Thomisidae. This work has to date resulted in four papers and a large amount of unpublished data (see below). Furthermore, insights gained are now used to formulate conservation strategies in Sri Lanka.
A majority of the web building spiders do not build the well known orb-web. Nevertheless, most studies on spider webs focus on the orb-web. Thus, the aim of my PhD research was to study in detail the web and the web construction behavior of the families Linyphiidae and Theridiidae that construct non-orb webs and are descendants of orb-web building ancestors. Linyphiids and Theridiids build complex webs and which can take many days to complete. They build during the night and are disturbed by light. This had previously made observation of their behavior almost impossible. My PhD research begun by developing a technique that allows the precise observation of their behavior. These techniques developed and refined during my thesis at the University of Basel now makes precise observation of night active spiders and other Athropods possible. My thesis resulted in the first ever comprehensive description of the construction behavior of these spiders and has now opened a whole new field of study in arachnology.
I am currently working with Dr. Gustavo Hormiga on a NSF program called ATOL-spiders (ATOL projects aim to study phylogeny on a grand scale). The goal of this project is to produce a robust phylogeny of all the deepest branches within the mega-diverse group spiders by combining a large amount of newly generated comparative genomic data with a substantial set of new and re-assessed data on morphology and behavior. This project engages a multidisciplinary team of morphologists, paleontologists and molecular biologist, in studies focused on major evolutionary branches of the spider tree of life and supporting development of state of the art analytical and data basing tools. As the phylogeny for spiders became available, it will provide evolutionary insights into comparative studies from behavior to ecology to conservation. However, due to the pioneering nature of this project, it will take some time for results to be ready for publication.
Austria, Dominican Republic, Germany, Hawaii, Mexico, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Switzerland.
2003–2004 Postdoctoral fellowship, Department of Insect Biology, UC Berkeley.
2002 Study grant, Friwillige Akademische Gesellschaft, Basel.
2002 Best student poster, 20th European colloquium of arachnology, Szombathely, Hungary.
1999–2002 Doctoral fellowship, Swiss National Science Foundation.
1991–1998 M. Sc. (Mag. rer. nat.) Fellowship of the Austrian Academic exchange services.
Systematics and conservation of spiders in Sri Lanka: current status and future prospects, national workshop on the status of invertebrate fauna in Sri Lanka, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 5th of August 2004.
Evolutionary origin of novel behavioural pattern: a case study using web construction patterns in orbicularians. 20th European colloquium of arachnology, Szombathely, Hungary, 2002.
A revision of jumping spider species formerly placed in the genus Marengo and comments on the phylogeny of Ballinae (Araneae, Salticidae). 20th European colloquium of arachnology, Szombathely, Hungary, 2002.
Webs of theridiids: construction, structure and evolution. Biology02, Bern, Switzerland, 2002.
Web building behaviour of Steatoda triangulosa (Theridiidae). 15th international congress of arachnology, Badplaas, South Africa, 2001.
Untangling the tangle-web: the three phased web building behaviour of Steatoda triangulosa (Theridiidae). Zoologia and Botanica, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 2001.
A computerised method to observe spider web building behaviour in a semi-natural light environment. 19th European colloquium of arachnology, Aarhus, Denmark, 2000.
On a species of the rare genus Epidius from Sri Lanka with notes on the Thomisidae palp (Araneae: Thomisidae). XIV International congress of Arachnology, 22nd annual meeting of the American arachnological society, Chicago, 1998.
Benjamin S P. In Press. The Male of Suffasia attidiya Benjamin & Jocqué, 2000 (Araneae, Zodariidae). Journal of Arachnology.
Zschokke, S., Hénaut Y., Benjamin S. P. & García-Ballinas J. A. 2006. Prey-capture strategies in sympatric web building spiders. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 84: 964-973. PDF
Benjamin S. P. 2006. The male of Marengo nitida with the description of M. rattotensis new species from Sri Lanka (Araneae: Salticidae). Zootaxa, 1326: 25-36. PDF
Huber B. & Benjamin S P. 2005. The pholcid spiders from Sri Lanka: redescription of Pholcus ceylonicus and description of Wanniyala new genus (Araneae: Pholcidae). Journal of Natural History, 39: 3305-3319. PDF
Benjamin S. P. & Zschokke S. 2004. Homology, behaviour and spider webs: Web construction behaviour of Linyphia hortensis and L. triangularis (Araneae Linyphiidae) and its evolutionary significance. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 17: 120-130. PDF
Benjamin S P. 2004. Nesticella marapu sp. n, a blind Nesticidae (Araneae) from Sumba, Indonesia. Revue suisse de Zoologie, 111: 303-307. PDF
Benjamin S P. 2004. A taxonomic revision and a phylogenetic hypothesis for the jumping spider subfamily Ballinae (Araneae, Salticidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 142: 1-82. PDF
Benjamin S. P. & Zschokke S. 2003. Webs of theridiid spiders: construction, structure and evolution. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 78: 293-305. PDF
Knoflach B. & Benjamin S. P. 2003. Tidarren sisyphoides females do not cannibalize their mates. Journal of Arachnology, 31: 445-448.
Benjamin S. P., M. Düggelin & Zschokke S. 2002. Fine structure of sheet-webs of Linyphia triangularis (Clerck) and Microlinyphia pusilla (Sundevall), with remarks on the presence of viscid silk. Acta Zoologica, 83: 49-59.
Benjamin S. P. 2002. Smodicinodes schwendingeri sp. n. from Thailand and the first male of Smodicinodes Ono, 1993, with notes on the phylogenetic relationships in the tribe Smodicini (Araneae: Thomisidae). Revue suisse de Zoologie, 109: 3-8.
Benjamin S. P. & Zschokke S. 2002. A computerised method to observe spider web building behaviour in a semi-natural light environment. In European Arachnology 2000, (S. Toft & N. Scharff eds.). Aarhus University Press, Aarhus. 117-122. PDF
Benjamin S. P. & Zschokke S. 2002. Untangling the tangle-web: web building behaviour of the comb-footed spider Steatoda triangulosa and comments on phylogenetic implications (Araneae: Theridiidae). Journal of Insect Behavior, 15: 791-809. PDF
Benjamin S. P. 2001. The genus Oxytate L. Koch 1878 from Sri Lanka, with description of Oxytate taprobane sp. n. (Araneae: Thomisidae). Journal of South Asian Natural History, 5(2): 153-158. PDF
Benjamin S. P. 2000. Epidius parvati sp. n., a new species of the genus Epidius from Sri Lanka (Araneae: Thomisidae). Bulletin of the British Arachnological society, 11(7): 284-288.
Benjamin S. P. & Jocqué R. 2000. Two new species of the genus Suffasia from Sri Lanka (Araneae: Zodariidae). Revue suisse de Zoologie, 107(1): 97-106.