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Zookeys. 2012;(192):1-13. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.192.3093. Epub 2012 May 8.

Summary statistics for fossil spider species taxonomy.

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  • 1Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, M13 9PT, UK.


Spiders (Araneae) are one of the most species-rich orders on Earth today, and also have one of the longest geological records of any terrestrial animal groups, as demonstrated by their extensive fossil record. There are currently around 1150 described fossil spider species, representing 2.6% of all described spiders (i.e. extinct and extant). Data for numbers of fossil and living spider taxa described annually (and various other metrics for the fossil taxa) were compiled from current taxonomic catalogues. Data for extant taxa showed a steady linear increase of approximately 500 new species per year over the last decade, reflecting a rather constant research activity in this area by a large number of scientists, which can be expected to continue. The results for fossil species were very different, with peaks of new species descriptions followed by long troughs, indicating minimal new published research activity for most years. This pattern is indicative of short bursts of research by a limited number of authors. Given the frequent discovery of new fossil deposits containing spiders, a wealth of new material coming to light from previously worked deposits, and the application of new imaging techniques in palaeoarachnology that allow us to extract additional data from historical specimens, e.g. X-ray computed tomography, it is important not only to ensure a sustained research activity on fossil spiders (and other arachnids) through training and enthusing the next generation of palaeoarachnologists, but preferably to promote increased research and expertise in this field.


Arachnida; Araneae; palaeontology

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