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  1. Abstract

    Higher-level classifications often must account for monotypic taxa representing depauperate evolutionary lineages and lacking synapomorphies of their better-known, well-defined sister clades. In a ranked (Linnean) or unranked (phylogenetic) classification system, discovering such a depauperate taxon does not necessarily invalidate the rank classification of sister clades. Named higher taxa must be monophyletic to be phylogenetically valid. Ranked taxa above the species level should also maximize information content, diagnosability, and utility (e.g., in biodiversity conservation). In spider classification, families are the highest rank that is systematically catalogued, and incertae sedis is not allowed. Consequently, it is important that family-level taxa be well defined and informative. We revisit the classification problem of Orbipurae, an unranked suprafamilial clade containing the spider families Nephilidae, Phonognathidae, and Araneidae sensu stricto. We argue that, to maximize diagnosability, information content, conservation utility, and practical taxonomic considerations, this “splitting” scheme is superior to its recently proposed alternative, which lumps these families together as Araneidae sensu lato. We propose to redefine Araneidae and recognize a monogeneric spider family, Paraplectanoididae fam. nov. to accommodate the depauperate lineage Paraplectanoides. We present new subgenomic data to stabilize Orbipurae topology which also supports our proposed family-level classification. Our example from spiders demonstrates why classifications must be able to accommodate depauperate evolutionary lineages, for example, Paraplectanoides. Finally, although clade age should not be a criterion to determine rank, other things being equal, comparable ages of similarly ranked taxa do benefit comparative biology. [Classification, family rank, phylogenomics, systematics, monophyly, spider phylogeny.]

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  2. Planetary extinction of biodiversity underscores the need for taxonomy. Here, we scrutinize spider taxonomy over the last decade (2008–2018), compiling 2083 published accounts of newly described species. We evaluated what type of data were used to delineate species, whether data were made freely available, whether an explicit species hypothesis was stated, what types of media were used, the sample sizes, and the degree to which species constructs were integrative. The findings we report reveal that taxonomy remains largely descriptive, not integrative, and provides no explicit conceptual framework. Less than 4% of accounts explicitly stated a species concept and over one-third of all new species described were based on 1–2 specimens or only one sex. Only ~5% of studies made data freely available, and only ~14% of all newly described species employed more than one line of evidence, with molecular data used in ~6% of the studies. These same trends have been discovered in other animal groups, and therefore we find it logical that taxonomists face an uphill challenge when justifying the scientific rigor of their field and securing the needed resources. To move taxonomy forward, we make recommendations that, if implemented, will enhance its rigor, repeatability, and scientific standards. 
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  3. null (Ed.)
    The spider major ampullate (MA) silk exhibits high tensile strength and extensibility and is typically a blend of MaSp1 and MaSp2 proteins with the latter comprising glycine–proline–glycine–glycine-X repeating motifs that promote extensibility and supercontraction. The MA silk from Darwin's bark spider ( Caerostris darwini ) is estimated to be two to three times tougher than the MA silk from other spider species. Previous research suggests that a unique MaSp4 protein incorporates proline into a novel glycine–proline–glycine–proline motif and may explain C. darwini MA silk's extraordinary toughness. However, no direct correlation has been made between the silk's molecular structure and its mechanical properties for C. darwini . Here, we correlate the relative protein secondary structure composition of MA silk from C. darwini and four other spider species with mechanical properties before and after supercontraction to understand the effect of the additional MaSp4 protein. Our results demonstrate that C. darwini MA silk possesses a unique protein composition with a lower ratio of helices (31%) and β-sheets (20%) than other species. Before supercontraction, toughness, modulus and tensile strength correlate with percentages of β-sheets, unordered or random coiled regions and β-turns. However, after supercontraction, only modulus and strain at break correlate with percentages of β-sheets and β-turns. Our study highlights that additional information including crystal size and crystal and chain orientation is necessary to build a complete structure–property correlation model. 
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  4. Abstract

    Island systems provide excellent arenas to test evolutionary hypotheses pertaining to gene flow and diversification of dispersal-limited organisms. Here we focus on an orbweaver spider genusCyrtognatha(Tetragnathidae) from the Caribbean, with the aims to reconstruct its evolutionary history, examine its biogeographic history in the archipelago, and to estimate the timing and route of Caribbean colonization. Specifically, we test ifCyrtognathabiogeographic history is consistent with an ancient vicariant scenario (the GAARlandia landbridge hypothesis) or overwater dispersal. We reconstructed a species level phylogeny based on one mitochondrial (COI) and one nuclear (28S) marker. We then used this topology to constrain a time-calibrated mtDNA phylogeny, for subsequent biogeographical analyses in BioGeoBEARS of over 100 originally sampledCyrtognathaindividuals, using models with and without a founder event parameter. Our results suggest a radiation of CaribbeanCyrtognatha, containing 11 to 14 species that are exclusively single island endemics. Although biogeographic reconstructions cannot refute a vicariant origin of the Caribbean clade, possibly an artifact of sparse outgroup availability, they indicate timing of colonization that is much too recent for GAARlandia to have played a role. Instead, an overwater colonization to the Caribbean in mid-Miocene better explains the data. From Hispaniola,Cyrtognathasubsequently dispersed to, and diversified on, the other islands of the Greater, and Lesser Antilles. Within the constraints of our island system and data, a model that omits the founder event parameter from biogeographic analysis is less suitable than the equivalent model with a founder event.

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  5. Abstract

    Darwin’s bark spider (Caerostris darwini) produces giant orb webs from dragline silk that can be twice as tough as other silks, making it the toughest biological material. This extreme toughness comes from increased extensibility relative to other draglines. We showC. darwinidragline-producing major ampullate (MA) glands highly express a novel silk gene transcript (MaSp4) encoding a protein that diverges markedly from closely related proteins and contains abundant proline, known to confer silk extensibility, in a unique GPGPQ amino acid motif. This suggestsC. darwinievolved distinct proteins that may have increased its dragline’s toughness, enabling giant webs.Caerostris darwini’sMA spinning ducts also appear unusually long, potentially facilitating alignment of silk proteins into extremely tough fibers. Thus, a suite of novel traits from the level of genes to spinning physiology to silk biomechanics are associated with the unique ecology of Darwin’s bark spider, presenting innovative designs for engineering biomaterials.

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  6. Abstract

    The Caribbean archipelago offers one of the best natural arenas for testing biogeographic hypotheses. The intermediate dispersal model of biogeography (IDM) predicts variation in species richness among lineages on islands to relate to their dispersal potential. To test this model, one would need background knowledge of dispersal potential of lineages and their biogeographic patterns, which has been problematic as evidenced by our prior work on the Caribbean tetragnathid spiders. In order to investigate the biogeographic imprint of an excellent disperser, we studyTrichonephilain the Americas.Trichonephilais a nephilid genus that contains globally distributed species known to overcome long, overwater distances. The results of our phylogenetic and population genetic analyses onT. clavipessuggest that populations over the Caribbean and North America maintain a lively gene flow. However, the single species status ofT. clavipesover the entire New World is challenged by our species delimitation analyses. Combined with prior evidence from spider genera of different dispersal ability, these patterns coming from an excellent disperser (Trichonephila) that is species‐poor and of a relatively homogenous genetic structure, support the IDM predictions.

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  7. The Caribbean island biota is characterized by high levels of endemism, the result of an interplay between colonization opportunities on islands and effective oceanic barriers among them. A relatively small percentage of the biota is represented by ‘widespread species,’ presumably taxa for which oceanic barriers are ineffective. Few studies have explored in detail the genetic structure of widespread Caribbean taxa. The cobweb spiderSpintharus flavidusHentz, 1850 (Theridiidae) is one of two describedSpintharusspecies and is unique in being widely distributed from northern N. America to Brazil and throughout the Caribbean. As a taxonomic hypothesis,Spintharus “flavidus”predicts maintenance of gene flow among Caribbean islands, a prediction that seems contradicted by knownS. flavidusbiology, which suggests limited dispersal ability. As part of an extensive survey of Caribbean arachnids (project CarBio), we conducted the first molecular phylogenetic analysis ofS. flaviduswith the primary goal of testing the ‘widespread species’ hypothesis. Our results, while limited to three molecular loci, reject the hypothesis of a single widespread species. Instead this lineage seems to represent a radiation with at least 16 species in the Caribbean region. Nearly all are short range endemics with several distinct mainland groups and others are single island endemics. While limited taxon sampling, with a single specimen from S. America, constrains what we can infer about the biogeographical history of the lineage, clear patterns still emerge. Consistent with limited overwater dispersal, we find evidence for a single colonization of the Caribbean about 30 million years ago, coinciding with the timing of the GAARLandia landbridge hypothesis. In sum,S. “flavidus”is not a single species capable of frequent overwater dispersal, but rather a 30 my old radiation of single island endemics that provides preliminary support for a complex and contested geological hypothesis.

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