Spiders are a highly species rich group of invertebrates that exploit a wide variety of niches in virtually all the earth's biomes. Some species of spiders build elaborate webs that passively trap their prey whereas others are active predators that ambush or pursue their prey. Given spiders' taxonomic diversity as well as the variety of ecological niches breadth along with the ease of catching them, spiders can represent useful, fairly easily measured indicators of environmental change and community level diversity.
This exercise focuses on classifying and analyzing spider communities to explore the concept of biological diversity and experience its application to decision making in biological conservation. The exercise can be undertaken in three parts, depending on your interest level.
- You will gain experience in classifying organisms by sorting a hypothetical collection of spiders from a forest patch and determining if the spider collection is adequate to accurately represent the overall diversity of spiders present in the forest patch.
- If you wish to explore further, you can sort spider collections made at four other forest patches in the same region and contrast spider communities in terms of their species richness, species diversity, and community similarity. You will apply this information to make decisions about the priority that should be given to protecting each forest patch in order to conserve the regional pool of spider diversity.
- If you wish to explore the concepts of biodiversity yet further, you will next take into account the evolutionary relationships among the families of spiders collected. This phylogenetic perspective will augment your decision making about priorities for patch protection by accounting for evolutionary distinctiveness in addition to diversity and distinctiveness at the community level.
Once you have worked through these concepts and analyses you will have a much enhanced familiarity with the subtleties of what biological diversity is.