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The Oonopid Spider PBI
Many generalizations about the distribution of life on earth, including the now conventional list of biodiversity hotspots, are based largely on what we know about vertebrate animals and green plants. That small sample of the planet's total biodiversity is unrepresentative in at least one crucial aspect, range size; species in megadiverse groups often have much smaller geographic ranges than do most vertebrates and plants. For historical biogeography, and for conservation purposes, it is microdistributed groups, containing species with the smallest range sizes, that offer maximal potential information. As one of the few megadiverse, microdistributed groups whose species and literature are fully cataloged in an electronically available form, spiders are excellent candidates for a PBI project. Among the plethora of spider groups, the dwarf hunting spiders of the family Oonopidae seem most likely to produce extremely fine-scale information about areas of endemism and their interrelationships on a global basis. Oonopids are therefore the spider group most likely to be of maximal use to both biogeographers and conservation biologists, once the species are described, their distributions are mapped, and their interrelationships are inferred.
Conducting a global inventory and producing a phylogenetic classification for the estimated 2,500 species of oonopids is a sizable undertaking, beyond what any systematist could accomplish over an entire career, and demands a new, more collaborative approach to systematics. A team of some 30 investigators on six continents will assemble and sort the specimens available in collections and acquire new material through 12 expeditions that will concentrate on securing better samples of litter- and canopy-dwelling species, as well as fresh material for DNA sequencing. Team members will use existing cyberinfrastructure to build Internet-accessible databases of the taxa, all specimen locality data, and images; a new application will allow team members to enter descriptive data into a multi-user database, in a highly structured format that will allow direct use of that information in formal descriptions for publication, on species web pages, in phylogenetic analyses, and in interactive keys. Automated identification systems, using artificial neural networks, will be developed, and the accuracy of those systems will be compared with that achieved by workers, ranging from total beginners to knowledgeable specialists, using interactive keys to the same taxa.
To produce a maximally predictive classification, phylogenetic analyses will utilize all available morphological data (which will be substantial, as oonopids show numerous, highly unusual features of both somatic and genitalic anatomy), and new DNA sequence data, which will be collected from multiple representatives of each of the oonopid genera and their outgroups (the three other families of dysderoid spiders). These analyses will interface productively with a currently funded spider ATOL project, enabling us to provide a seamless account of both the species-level diversity and the higher-level relationships of a significant chunk of the tree of life.
Broader impacts of the project include training several high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students (with emphasis on recruiting members of groups currently underrepresented in the science workforce). International partnerships will be created through the direct participation of systematists, museums, and universities in at least 10 countries. Infrastructure enhancements will include the collection of new specimens, sorting and identification of existing specimens, establishment of Internet-accessible taxon, specimen, image, and descriptive databases, and continued development of an automated identification system. Project outreach plans include a major traveling museum exhibition designed to focus public attention on PBI projects (not just our own) and on the excitement of biodiversity discovery. Extensive public-aimed web materials will be developed in coordination with the American Museum's National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology.
The American Museum of Natural History, New York, in collaboration with
The California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco   The University of California, Berkeley
The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago   George Washington University, Washington DC
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DEB 0613754. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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