Spider Collecting Expeditions
One large part of our research involves international expeditions to collect spiders. Loxosceles and Sicarius comprise about 120 described species found all over the world. Our goal is to build the most robust and refined phylogeny possible of these two genera so we can more accurately reconstruct their biogeographical history and the evolutionary history of the venom toxin SMase D. This requires thorough sampling in as many countries where they are found as possible.
Undergraduates are usually a part of collecting trips and sometimes are actively involved in acquiring funding for them. We have already conducted major field expeditions to various parts of North and South America and Southern Africa as well as some smaller expeditions to China and Western/Northern Africa. In the future, we hope to travel to Eastern Africa and perhaps more countries in South America to fill out our data set.
In addition to international collecting trips, we have also collected spiders extensively in the Desert Southwest of the United states and some in Oregon and Washington. Loxosceles and Sicarius do not live in the Pacific Northwest, but other related families do. These families are important to include in our phylogenetic analyses of Loxosceles and Sicarius as “outgroups” (individuals that are close, but not included in, the taxonomic group of interest). Including “outgroups” in phylogenetic analyses is important and allows us to determine the direction of change for characters within the Loxosceles and Sicarius phylogeny(ies).
Collecting spiders across Central America
In December 2007 and January 2008 Jasmine Carver, ’08 and Rebecca Duncan, ’06 visited 5 central American countries with two colleagues, Sarah Crews and Pablo Berea Nunez. We started in Guatemala and ended 5 weeks later in Panama. We saw a huge amount of biodiversity throughout the region and collected the first known Loxosceles and Sicarius from some countries. There was some absolutely amazing scenery and wonderful people. The spiders we brought back will help us resolve relationships between North American Loxosceles and test hypotheses about the timing and mechanism of Loxosceles colonization of North America.