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Spiders are among the most familiar and diverse of terrestrial invertebrates – they are endlessly fascinating to many, yet remain feared and misunderstood by most. Other Australian arachnids, such as mites, are also incredibly diverse.
Australia is home to nine major groups of terrestrial arachnids, including the ubiquitous order Araneae – the spiders. Spiders are the dominant predators of insects worldwide, and are one nature's great evolutionary success stories, with over 50,000 named species. Although much maligned, they are endlessly fascinating and highly misunderstood creatures, with silk and venom playing central roles in all aspects of their lives. Spiders are perhaps most famous for their ability to produce and use silk in myriad ways; many species spin intricate silken webs, which they construct with astonishing precision and architectural flair.
Other arachnid groups in Australia include two superorders of mites (which are also remarkably diverse at the species level), along with the equally fascinating but less diverse scorpions (order Scorpiones), pseudoscorpions (order Pseudoscorpiones), harvestmen (order Opiliones), schizomids (order Schizomida), whip spiders (order Amblypygi) and micro whip scorpions (order Palpigradi). Marine sea spiders (class Pycnogonida), which are distant relatives of arachnids, also occur in Australian oceanic waters, especially in the temperate zone.
Arachnology is the scientific study of arachnids (i.e., members of the class Arachnida), and encompasses the more specialised fields of Araneology (the study of spiders) and Acarology (the study of mites).
Scientists who study arachnology are arachnologists. The field of arachnology incorporates many sub-disciplines within the biological sciences, including systematic biology (taxonomy and evolutionary biology), ecology, behavioural ecology, molecular biology (genetics) and biochemistry, among others. Indeed, appreciating the staggering diversity of arachnids requires a detailed understanding of their diversity, classification, life histories, behaviour and ecology. Cutting-edge research in the field of biochemistry is also unlocking the applied potential of arachnid venom compounds and silk, for use in drug discovery and engineering.
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The Queensland Museum arachnology collection is one of the largest in Australia, with over 110,000 registered specimens, and over 1,500 primary types. It is the only Australian institution with a major research focus on the two largest groups of arachnids – the spiders and the mites. The spider collection, in particular, is of international significance thanks to decades of research by Queensland Museum arachnologists, and includes the largest collection of tropical and subtropical rainforest spiders in Australia. The mite collection features three acquired collections, each with their own focus: the Queensland Institute of Medical Research Collection (QIMR; with mites that parasitise birds and mammals), the Queensland Department of Primary Industries collection (QDPI; with mites that live on plants) and the University of Queensland Collection (UQ; with mites that live in soil and on insects). Recent research efforts have made the Queensland Museum collection of flat mites – an important group of mites on plants – the second largest in the world.
Queensland Museum has a long and distinguished history of research in arachnology, with our arachnologists publishing widely in the fields of taxonomy (the documentation and description of new species), systematics (reconstructing evolutionary history and biogeography), genetics and conservation biology. Australia has one of the largest and scientifically most interesting arachnid faunas in the world, and the museum’s collection and the research conducted on it are therefore central to discovering, documenting and understanding the Australian fauna more broadly – in line with the national vision set out by Taxonomy Australia. The taxonomic research being done by QM arachnologists is now especially significant and urgent in the context of the 21st Century and the Anthropocene, given the environmental and climatic changes that are being experienced across Australia, and the population declines and extinctions that are occurring in various arachnid and other terrestrial invertebrate species. Research projects in arachnology are therefore increasingly geared towards understanding arachnid groups of conservation significance, or groups with a particular evolutionary appeal or economic impact.
Arachnology research at the Queensland Museum is currently focussed on two major groups – the spiders and the mites. The following research themes are the focus of active research by museum arachnologists:
Project leader: Dr Michael Rix
Project leaders: Dr Owen Seeman and Dr Jenny Beard
Specific information on scientific publications and current research project in arachnology can also be accessed via staff profiles.
Principal Scientist, Biodiversity & Geosciences, Queensland Museum
Collection Manager, Arachnida & Myriapoda, Queensland Museum
Assistant Collection Manager, Research Assistant, Arachnology, Queensland Museum
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