REVSYS: SYSTEMATICS OF THE
SCORPION FAMILY VAEJOVIDAE
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Progress


Contributions within Discipline:

Twenty papers citing the grant are published, in press or in review (see Publications). New species are described in these papers and new data on the distributions of others provided, adding significant inventory data for vaejovids and other scorpions. A commentary paper on scorpion phylogeny, discussing the position of the family Vaejovidae, and morphological character coding and analysis of scorpion phylogeny more generally, has been published (see Prendini and Wheeler 2005). A monographic synthesis of the morphology of tarsal spinules and setae in vaejovid scorpions, with a discussion of their utility as diagnostic and phylogenetic characters, has been published (See McWest 2009). A paper on the phylogeny and higher classification of North American Hadrurus scorpions was published (See Francke and Prendini 2008).

A manuscript presenting the results of an analysis of vaejovid relationships (the ‘scaffold’ phylogeny) is in preparation. The analysis is based on ca. 1,025 DNA sequences (1640 fragments) representing all genera and species groups, including type species, of Vaejovidae and 16 outgroup taxa, analysed simultaneously with morphological characters scored for the same taxa, summing to a total of 4,265 characters (morphology plus molecules). The resulting publication, using a total evidence approach, will make major changes in current supraspecific vaejovid taxonomy: genera will be reorganized, new genera described, and several genera synonymized; it will also be possible to establish new monophyletic suprageneric groupings. This is the single largest analysis of phylogenetic relationships among a group of scorpions ever attempted.

The all-species analysis, however, will be five times larger and will represent 92% of the species in the family Vaejovidae. This dataset currently comprises 963 ingroup terminals representing 271 vaejovid morphospecies and 16 outgroup terminals (one species each), summing to 979 terminals sequenced for 7832 DNA fragments, comprising 4746 partial or complete sequences (97% of the total 4895), from two nuclear and three mitochondrial markers.

In addition, at least 113 new species of Vaejovidae and many new records and range-extensions of previously poorly known species have been obtained as a result of fieldwork supported by REVSYS funds and will be incorporated into future contributions.

Eleven presentations, three at national meetings and eight at international meetings, one lecture at the AMNH, and three posters at international meetings, were all based on work supported in whole or in part by the grant.

More than 16,200 scorpion specimens were collected in the course of the project. A large amount of additional arachnid and myriapod material was collected during the REVSYS project. These new specimens will facilitate research on other groups of scorpions, spiders, opilionids, pseudoscorpions, solpugids, uropygids, schizomids, and palpigrades, and myriapods. Several papers describing a new diplocentrid scorpion, a new sun spider, and redescribing a whipscorpion, all collected during fieldwork supported by the grant, are already published or in press.


Contributions to Other Disciplines:


The creation of an online searchable database of vaejovid specimens on the REVSYS Vaejovidae project website (www.vaejovidae.info; mirror site at www.vaejovidae.com) has provided data on scorpion distributions to biogeographers and conservation biologists for use in landscape studies on arthropod diversity, distribution and conservation in North America.
The inventory work, as well as the distribution of taxonomic keys enabling identification, will be helpful to park personnel and resource management specialists wishing to assess their scorpion fauna while the provision of online keys and taxonomic treatments of each vaejovid species, still in progress, will facilitate the work of ecologists interested in including vaejovids in studies on the North American biota.

The website has resulted in requests to use material for teaching and educational purposes, and has served as a useful reference for students and nascent biologists. It has also resulted in donations of material for the project.

The commentary paper by Prendini & Wheeler (2005) addresses concerns in general systematics research on issues such as character coding and internet publishing without peer review.

Contributions to Education and Human Resources:

This REVSYS project involved four Ph.D. students (one working full-time on the project), eight M.S. students, twenty undergraduate students, five high school students, eighteen volunteers and eleven technicians. These individuals received training in relevant field techniques (e.g., specimen collection, specimen, preservation, ethics and legal issues), taxonomic practices (e.g., identification, curatorial techniques, production of illustrations, collection of morphometric and meristic data from specimens), and/or laboratory skills (e.g., DNA sequencing, microscopy, digital imaging). Each of the four senior personnel participated in multiple field expeditions with students and volunteers to provide training and intellectual interactions in the field setting. Many of the students began the project as undergraduates and, as a result of their participation, decided to pursue graduate studies in arachnology. Several have contributed to publications and are still involved in vaejovid research.

The four senior personnel collaborated on major intellectual aspects continually for the duration of the project via e-mail and phone conversations. In addition, they spent several weeks in the field together during each year of the project, and met together in New York City (AMNH) for several days of intensive discussions (each lasting approximately one week) on three separate occasions. Afterwards, the Co-PI and collaborators each made individual visits to work at the AMNH for various reasons in support of the project. They continue to collaborate on diverse aspects of the project, as well as on other projects that arose out of the REVSYS vaejovid work. Such collaboration is unprecedented in the history of scorpion systematics, which has been characterized by ‘lone wolves’ doing research largely in isolation. The REVSYS Vaejovidae experience proves that a collaborative model, though not without its problems, is possible and may well be superior.

There were a number of educational outreach events during the project. Five presentations at popular science meetings were based on work supported in whole or in part by the grant. Co-PI Sissom delivered presentations to Arachnocon (San Antonio, 2007) and the American Tarantula Society (Rio Rico, AZ, 2008) on the North American scorpion fauna. Jeremy Huff (AMNH) also delivered a presentation to Arachnocon (2007) on the progress of the REVSYS project. These presentations represent outreach to layperson organizations with special interest in arachnids. Randy Mercurio (AMNH) delivered a presentation regarding the REVSYS project to the American Tarantula Society (Phoenix, 2007). The co-PI also delivered a presentation on North American scorpions at Venom Week: 2nd International Scientific Symposium on Venomous Animals (Albuquerque, 2009). These meetings are oriented to the medical community, and the natural history talk was requested to provide doctors and other medical personnel with broader knowledge of this medically-important group.

Additionally, PI Prendini was interviewed by the American Tarantula Society (ATS) for an article about his research on scorpions, to be published in the ATS Forum Magazine. Prendini also contributed two general articles on scorpions aimed at high school students to Scholastic Science World and Scholastic SuperScience: ‘Scorpions: Friend or Foe?’ (January 2008, pp. 10, 11). He also reviewed, and provided content and images to an article entitled ‘Beware Scorpions’ for Martha Stewart Kids Magazine (Number 19, Fall 2005, pp. 70, 76–81, 143) and two books on scorpions aimed at children and/or young adults: Arachnids of the World (Natural History Museum) by J. Beccaloni (2008); Scorpions: On the Hunt (Capstone Press, Mankato, MN) (2008). Three articles (two online) appeared in association with the publication on scorpion book lungs by Kamenz and Prendini (2009), which acknowledges the grant:

AMNH Website (http://www.amnh.org/science/papers/scorpion_images.php): ‘Microscopic morphology adds detail to scorpion family tree’;

http://www.Physorg.com: ‘Microscopic morphology adds to the scorpion family tree’

Seed Magazine (http://www.seedmagazine.com), June 2009: ‘Portfolio: A library of lungs’.

Contributions to Resources for Science and Technology:

The REVSYS project website offers a portal for access by researchers, conservation biologists, students, and the general public to a broad range of information on the systematics, distribution, and biology of the most diverse group of scorpions in North America.
 

 


The material included in this site is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0413453.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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