A molecular phylogeny of the Australian huntsman spiders (Sparassidae, Deleninae): implications for taxonomy and social behaviour.

Ingi Agnarsson
Ingi Agnarsson
University of Vermont
Burlington | United States
Linda S Rayor
Linda S Rayor
Cornell University
College Station | United States

Mol Phylogenet Evol 2013 Dec 2;69(3):895-905. Epub 2013 Jul 2.

Department of Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA. Electronic address:

Huntsman spiders (Sparassidae) are a diverse group with a worldwide distribution, yet are poorly known both taxonomically and phylogenetically. They are particularly diverse in Australia where an endemic lineage, Deleninae, has diversified to form nearly 100 species. One unusual species, Delena cancerides, has been believed to be the sole group-living sparassid. Unlike all of the other subsocial and social spiders which are capture-web based or live in silken tunnels, D. cancerides are non-web building spiders that live in large matrilineal colonies of a single adult female and her offspring from multiple clutches of under the bark of dead trees. Here we report the discovery of two additional prolonged subsocial sparassid species, currently in Eodelena but here formally proposed as a synonomy of Delena (new synonoymy), Delena (Eodelena) lapidicola and D. (E.) melanochelis. We briefly describe their social demographics, behavior, and habitat use. In order to understand the evolutionary relationships among these species, and thus origin of sociality and other traits in this group, we also offer the first molecular phylogeny of Deleninae and relatives. We employ model based phylogenetic analyses on two mtDNA and three nuDNA loci using maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods, including both 'classical' concatenation approach as well as coalescent-based analysis of species trees from gene trees. Our results support the hypothesis that the delenine huntsman spiders are a monophyletic Australian radiation, approximately 23 million year old, and indicate that the current ten genera should be merged to six genera in four clades. Our findings are inconsistent with some relatively recent changes in the taxonomy of Deleninae. The three known group-living delenine species are related and likely represent a single origin of sociality with a single reversal to solitary life-styles. Our results provide strong support for the classical Isopeda, but not for the recent splitting of that taxon into Isopeda, Isopedella, and Holconia. Another moderately supported clade within Deleninae unites three genera (Pediana, Beregama, Typostola) that, while morphologically diverse, all share extraordinary locomotory speed. A fourth clade is comprised of the speciose Neosparassus, containing Zachria. In sum, our study results in a robust phylogeny of Deleninae, casting light on the origin of sociality in the group, and facilitating future work on these unusual spiders.

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December 2013
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