High‐stakes species delimitation in eyeless cave spiders (Cicurina,Dictynidae, Araneae) from central Texas


Marshal Hedin


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Publication Date

January 2015


A remarkable radiation of completely eyeless, cave‐obligate spider species (Cicurina ) has been described from limestone caves of Texas. This radiation includes over 50 described species, with a large number of hypothesized single‐cave endemics, and four species listed as US Federally Endangered. Because of this conservation importance, species delimitation in the group is ‘high‐stakes’– it is imperative that species hypotheses are data rich, objective, and robust. This study focuses on a complex of four cave‐dwelling Cicurina distributed on the northwestern edge of Austin, Texas. Several of the existing species hypotheses in this complex are weak, based on morphological comparisons of small samples of adult female specimens; one species description (for C. wartoni ) is based on a single adult specimen. Species limits in this group were newly assessed using morphological, mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data evidence, analysed using a variety of approaches. All data support a clear lineage separation between C. buwata versus the C. travisae complex (including C. travisae , C. wartoni and C. reddelli ). Observed congruence across multiple analyses indicate that the C. travisae complex represents a single species, and the formal species synonymy presented here has important conservation implications. The integrative framework utilized in this study serves as a potential model for other Texas cave Cicurina , including US Federally Endangered species. More generally, this study illustrates how and why taxon‐focused conservation efforts must prioritize modern species delimitation research (if the existing taxonomy is weak), before devoting precious downstream resources to conservation efforts. The study also highlights the issue of taxonomic type II error that diversity biologists increasingly face as species delimitation moves into the genomics era.


Bayesian Phylogenetics & Phylogeography, Conservation Biology, Endangered Species, Population Structure, Species Delimitation, Species Synonymy

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Molecular Ecology, Vol. 24, no. 2 (2015).