Systematics and Evolution
Most of our ongoing projects have a systematics component, ranging from targeting species discoveries, providing their diagnoses through integrated taxonomy, followed by phylogenetic analyses of morphological, behavioral and molecular data, and their biogeographic implications. We also investigate coevolutionary patterns and causes, e.g. sexual coevolution of anatomical and behavioral features in spiders, coevolution of exceptional spider web ecology with architecture, and the (lack) of coevolution in male and female size and the resulting extreme sexual size dimorphism.
We are interested in how natural and sexual selection shape behaviors. Small males and gigantic females of nephilid spiders engage in peculiar sexual repertoires such as genital mutilation, amputation and plugging, as well as mate binding and guarding, and sexual cannibalism as the ultimate result of sexual conflict. We also study spider behavioral syndromes (personalities) and how they relate to species invasiveness abilities. Finally, we study spider web building behaviors and their architecture and functional ecology and how these relate to other evolutionary trends including female gigantism.
Biodiversity and Conservation
Our efforts in conservation involve deep freezing of invertebrate animal tissues and their DNA, providing DNA barcodes for these animals as a unique identification tool, and research into conservation priorities of selected taxa using evolutionary distinctiveness and phylogenetic diversity. We have been involved in numerous samplings of spiders globally in an effort to improve diversity estimation techniques and to discover and compare pockets of diversity.