Understanding and identifying new species of spiders
Spiders are predators that belong to a group that includes scorpions, harvestmen and mites. They are found in a wide range of environments, from desert soils to flowers in the tops of rainforest trees.
In Australia only 2700 species, in 500 genera and 78 families, have been described out of an estimated 10,000 species.
Many species of spiders contribute to the biological control of pests in crops.
The family Salticidae (Commonly known as jumping spiders) includes 339 described species and a further 1000 species may be present. They are found in all terrestrial and arboreal habitats throughout Australia and are highly endemic, especially in central and western parts of the continent. The salticid faunas of the tropical and coastal habitats of eastern and northern Australia show a strong New Guinean and Oriental influence.
Salticids are skillful jumpers that use their excellent vision to hunt in daylight. Some mimic ants, beetles or flies and some species may even supplement their diet with nectar.
Jumping spiders show complex behaviors and understanding them may lead to new insights into evolution.
Current spider related projects
The team at CSIRO are actively working on a couple of spider related projects, these include:
- Description of genera and species of jumping spiders (Salticidae): This project aims to describe new species in widespread genera and to describe the almost unknown fauna of inland Australia. Work at present is concentrated on describing new genera of Australian jumping spiders for species that previously have been placed, incorrectly, in European or American genera. Work has already started on a long-term project to develop a publicly accessible web-based interactive key to the genera of Australian Salticidae. This project is a joint effort by Australian and Polish taxonomists and a skilled Australian wildlife photographer.
- Biogeography of Australian jumping spiders: This long-term project aims to use the recently published evolutionary tree of the family, developed using molecular sequence data, to explore the evolution, morphology, ecology and habitat use of the distinctively Australian fauna. The availability of a molecular clock giving estimates of the dates of divergence of the various genera, will allow the adaptive changes seen to be related to major changes in Australian environments.