Ward C. Wheeler, Jonathon A. Coddington, Gustavo Hormiga, Lorenzo Prendini, and Petra Sierewald
American Museum of natural History
A grant has been awarded to Dr. Ward Wheeler of the American Museum of Natural History and his colleagues Dr. Lorenzo Prendini (AMNH), Dr. Jonathan Coddington (National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution), Dr. Gustavo Hormiga (George Washington University) and Dr. Petra Sierwald (Field Museum of Natural History) to examine the evolutionary history and biodiversity of spiders. Spiders are among the oldest and most diverse groups of terrestrial organisms on our planet, with fossils dating back to the Devonian (c. 380 million years ago) and a current diversity of over 37,500 described species placed in 3,471 genera and 109 families. Spiders stand out because of their ecological importance as the dominant predators of insects. It is no exaggeration to say that without spiders, insect pest populations would soar and humans would be greatly affected. Furthermore, spiders are already model organisms in biochemical (silk proteins and venom), behavioral (especially sexual and web-building behaviors) and ecological (foraging, predator-prey systems, integrated pest management) research. Accordingly, understanding their evolutionary history is a critical component in the NSF's Assembling the Tree of Life program. The aim of this Tree of Life proposal to produce a robust phylogeny of all the deepest branches within the spiders, by combining a massive amount of newly generated comparative genomic data with a substantial set of new and re-assessed data on morphology and behavior. The PIs will use high-throughput DNA sequencing to examine at least 50 "loci" for representatives of at least 500 genera of spiders and their closest relatives (the whipscorpions and allies). The computational challenges posed by the resulting large data matrices will be analyzed using new computer software, designed in large part by members of the group and using massively parallel processing to achieve supercomputing capability. These organisms included in the study will purposefully include all the previously most-favored study organisms of ethologists, ecologists, physiologists, and developmental and molecular biologists, thus integrating and contextualizing their research.