nemesia_plate_smallOur ability to recognize species and correctly assign individuals to them, are fundamental to the basic understanding of biodiversity and have broad implications for efforts ranging from biological conservation to comparative genomics. Species are heterogeneous evolving entities, which delimitation requires the integration of multiple lines of evidence. Recent technological and theoretical advances have renewed biologists’ interest in the issue of delimiting species. In this project, we propose to investigate species boundaries in two highly diverse, yet taxonomically difficult spider genera with contrasting evolutionary patterns. The Canarian woodlouse-hunter spiders (Dysdera) provide a spectacular example of species diversification on islands, where phenotypic differentiation has most likely outpaced random genetic differentiation. Mediterranean Nemesia, on the other hand, includes species with little morphological differentiation but deep genetic structure over short distances. Here, we aim to delimit species and infer drivers and mechanisms of diversification in these two spider groups by integrating genetic, phenotypic and ecological evidence. Up until now, the application of state of the art multilocus approaches to species delimitation and species tree inference in non-model organisms was hampered by the lack of genomic information. We will circumvent this limitation by using Next Generation Sequencing tools for developing novel markers and sequencing them in hundreds of taxa. Moreover, we will use geometric morphometrics and species distribution modelling techniques to seamless integrate morphological and ecological evidence with the information provided by molecules. Armed with these tools, we will further test specific hypotheses regarding the evolutionary processes behind the diversification of both genera. In Dysdera, we will investigate if the observed changes in mouthparts morphology are the result of dietary specialization (oniscophagy) and if ecological segregation has accelerated diversification rates. In Nemesia, we will disentangle the role of environmental variables, historical factors and dispersal capability in limiting species geographical ranges and will test if burrow architecture explains local patterns of species co-occurrence. Finally, as an example of the far-reaching relevance of the project, we will elaborate a prioritized list of relevant areas for conservation in the Iberian peninsula based on the endemism-richness and phylogenetic diversity of Nemesia. The genus is well suited as a bioindicator because of its poor dispersal capabilities and life cycle features
National parks play a key role in preserving representative natural landscapes for future generations. Understanding the spatial patterns of biodiversity and their underlying processes is a fundamental task for conservation biology. This is specially relevant for top predators, which rather than being a simple “aesthetic” component to conserve, have been recently demonstrated to be: 1) the most sensitive trophic level to environmental changes, and 2) highly relevant for ecosystem functioning, being their extinction a cause for extremely important changes in functions such as disease dynamics, wild fires and biogeochemical cycles. Among terrestrial predators, spiders are the most abundant and diverse group on Earth. Despite their abundance and pivotal role in ecosystem functioning, spiders remain poorly known and consequently are often neglected in biodiversity conservation policies. This lack of knowledge compromises the correct assessment of the representativeness and complementarity of protected areas, which are essential in establishing conservation priorities. Here we propose to circumvent these limitations by combining standarized sampling protocols developed for Mediterranean spiders with modern DNA based taxonomic techniques to gain a better understanding of the diversity of spiders in the Iberian peninsula and their biogeographic and evolutionary patterns. DNA barcoding uses standardized 500- to 800-bp sequences to accelerate and automatize species identification. In addition, DNAbarcodes help to reveal biogeographic history and refine species distributions by providing information on phylogenetic relationships and population structures and allowing identification of immature stages. Spiders are among the most diverse and ubiquitous organisms on Earth, are easy to sample and play an important role in shaping arthropod communities as the dominant predators in most terrestrial ecosystems. Because of their sensitivity to environmental changes and anthropogenic impacts, spiders have been identified as promising bioindicators. In this study, we propose to conduct semi-quantive sampling in 6 Spanish national parks, roughly representing a latitudinal and longitudinal biogeographic and climatic gradient. We will focus our sampling efforts on white oak forests because they are among the most representative Iberian forests, show high levels of endemicity, are of conservation concern, and their evolutionary history in the peninsula is relatively well-known.  We will address specific question regarding the assembly of spider communities of white of forest in a phylogenetic framework. We will specifically test if (1) climate is the main driver shaping local spider communities, (2) spider communities in recent post-glacial forests show a higher ratio of immigrant species and (3) functional diversity among forest types and parks remains constant as a results of replacement of functionally similar groups. The results of the project will greatly improve our current knowledge of the diversity and distribution of a key component of terrestrial ecosystems and will provide important information on the fine scale biogeographic patterns and main drivers of diversification of one of the richest and highly endemic yet increasingly vulnerable fauna in Europe.
mygale_fig_sSentinel organisms provide helpful guidelines for conservation and management. They can be used to assess ecosystem or environmental integrity and to identify and prioritize biodiversity hotspot regions. The spider infraorder Mygalomorphae is exceptionally well-suited for monitoring conservation status of terrestrial ecosystems in the Meditteranean basin. They exhibit high habitat fidelity, limited potential for dispersal and restricted distributional ranges. Moreover, they are abundantly present in most Mediterranean habitats. Biologists, however, have long overlooked mygalomorph spiders due to their secretive habits and challenging taxonomy. The promising use of these spiders as bioindicators is therefore not fully developed. Here we propose to overcome these limitations by undertaking and ambitious multidisciplinary research utilizing mygalomorphs as a model system to study the processes underpinning Mediterranean biodiversity. Specifically, we will investigate population structure and demographic processes in the mygalomorph spider with the largest geographical and latitudinal range in Europe, Atypus affinis, and will characterize factors promoting speciation in the highly diverse Mediterranean Nemesiidae. GIS and novel molecular tools will be further use to investigate niche segregation at local scale in sympatric species of Nemesiidae. We will also identify endemism hotspots in the Iberian Peninsula and will use phylogenetic diversity to prioritize areas for conservation, as inferred from the phylogenetic interrelationships and potential distributions of Mediterranean Nemesiidae. Because of narrow ecological preferences and long life cycles, Mygalomorphs are particularly vulnerable to extinction. We will combine population genetic tools with ecological modelling techniques to identify demographic history of the protected spider Macrothele calpeiana, and the Canarian endemic Titanidiops canariensis, and will predict future effect of global warming on the distribution and viability of these species. We are fully committed to overcome traditional barriers to the diffusion of scientific research. In this regard, our alliance with a public natural history institution will facilitate transfer of knowledge to society through a variety of activities. We anticipate that results of our research will be relevant for conservation, management, and sustainable use of natural landscapes in the Mediterranean basin
canigou_petitEarth climate is changing at a global scale as a result of human activity. Such changes have tremendous consequences for human societies by increasing natural catastrophes and by causing profound modifications on ecosystems that are essential for human survival. From a biological conservation standpoint, global climate change has come to accelerate the rate of destruction of biodiversity. An extremely dynamic geological history and climatic oscillations caused by earth’s movement across the solar system have shaped Mediterranean ecosystems and have converted this region in one of the planetary hot-spots of biodiversity. Unfortunately, overpopulation and a long-history of human occupation have had a deep impact on Mediterranean biological communities and have brought many endemics to the verge of extinction. The study of the past effect of climatic changes on the Mediterranean biota, namely the Pleistocene ice-ages, may shade light on the future impact of global warming on current ecosystems and can help to predict the sensitivity of particular areas to such changes. Modern molecular techniques are powerful tools for the study of the factors that shaped species relationships and population structure and provide the temporal framework for the occurrence of evolutionary events. The ground spider genera Harpactocrates and Parachtes provide an excellent model for the study of the effect of past climatic changes on the origin and shaping of biodiversity in the Western Mediterranean. They are both endemic to the region, and their species have high-elevation, non-overlapping distributions across major cordilleras in the Iberian and Italian Peninsulas, the Alps and the larger Islands of the region. We suggest that the diversity and distribution ranges of these genera are mostly the result of Pleistocene climatic oscillations and post-Oligocene tectonic movements. We propose to study these spider genera to identify the factors that promoted their diversification and to generate a precise temporal framework for the occurrence of such events. The results of this research will have important implications for the understanding of the origins of our biodiversity and for its conservation. Moreover, we will provide the scientific community with information to calibrate molecular clocks for studies in spiders or the Mediterranean region