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Project Overview
Intellectual Merit
Broader Impacts

Participating Institutions

Individual participants
Principal Investigators
Graduate Students
Undergraduate Students
High School Students

Museum Collections
Databasing and Mapping
DNA Sequencing
Phylogenetic Analysis

Timelines and Goals
Research Goals/Products
Training Program
Project Management

Project Overview

REVSYS: Systematics of the Scorpion Family Vaejovidae is an international collaborative project, funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 0413453), that brings together a group of experienced scorpion researchers to study the endemic North American scorpion family Vaejovidae.

AimsThe aims of this project are to revise the family Vaejovidae, to coordinate existing expertise, and train new experts in traditional monography and modern systematic techniques.  We have focused on North America because:

  1. North America, and especially México, has the most diverse scorpion fauna in the world, which remains poorly sampled and in need of systematic revision
  2. North America has the greatest concentration of active scorpion systematists in the world and the best facilities for training new ones
  3. restricting our focus to North America reduces the costs and simplifies the logistical aspects of fieldwork, meetings and loans from and visits to museum collections (the most important for the proposed project occur in the USA and México).

MotivationDespite their notoriety, worldwide distribution, medical, ecological and conservation importance, scorpions are poorly studied taxonomically.  Many scorpion families and genera have never been revised and new species and distribution records continue to be discovered, yet scorpions are increasingly threatened by habitat destruction and harvesting for the souvenir and exotic pet trades.  Given the relative paucity of active specialists in the group, it is unlikely that the world fauna will become better known until more specialists are trained and hired in permanent positions.  Besides dwindling expertise, scorpion systematics is hampered by the infrequent application of modern concepts and techniques, and a general lack of scientific rigor.  A concerted effort is needed to elevate the field to the level seen in other groups. We are addressing these problems as follows:

  1. forging new collaborations among existing experts, many of whom work in isolation, often competitively
  2. training new experts in traditional techniques as well as modern concepts and methods already applied routinely in studies of other taxa
  3. encouraging a return to rigorous standards for research, including the production of monographic syntheses on large monophyletic groups, rather than small studies of regional faunas or species groups that are often paraphyletic or defined on geographical criteria
  4. setting new standards for research, through the application of modern techniques, including automated descriptions, digital imaging of specimens and morphological characters, quantitative phylogenetic analysis based on morphological and molecular data, spatial analysis of distributions with GIS, and the production of online searchable databases of specimen records and digital images, interactive maps, and identification keys
  5. publishing scientific contributions in reputable, peer-reviewed journals    

Intellectual Merit:  Vaejovids are the most speciose group of North American scorpions, comprising 10 genera (45%) and ca. 150 species (64%), but more than double the number of described species are expected once all habitats have been thoroughly surveyed.  The family is unquestionably monophyletic, but its phylogenetic position is unclear and its generic classification is a shambles.  Major genera are not monophyletic, generic diagnoses are unworkable and there are few keys.  We shall rectify this situation by undertaking a phylogenetic analysis, revision and relimitation of all genera and species based on morphological and molecular data.  Using existing museum material and new material collected during at least thirteen fieldtrips, we will produce new, automated diagnoses and descriptions, accompanied by digital images of habitus and diagnostic characters, GIS-produced distribution maps plotting all known records, and a searchable specimen database: ‘one-stop-shopping’ of a kind never before attempted for a group of scorpions.  Additionally, our revision and phylogeny of the vaejovid radiation will contribute to the understanding of scorpion phylogeny, the evolution and speciation of arid-adapted arthropods, and the diversity, biogeography and conservation of the arid zone in southwestern North America.

Broader ImpactsWe will achieve these goals by dividing the work into smaller projects (higher phylogenetic relationships, generic relimitations, internal phylogenetic analyses and taxonomic revisions of genera or larger monophyletic groups thus delimited), conducted by three US specialists, a Mexican specialist, and a Mexican Ph.D. student.  Undergraduates and K-12 students, many from groups underrepresented in science, are being trained at three of the participating institutions.  Through these activities, we are coordinating the efforts of four specialists, generating a cooperation among them that did not previously exist.  Scientific infrastructure is being enhanced through the development of new collections and the synthesis of existing material.  In addition, we are developing this website with interactive maps and illustrated keys for identification of vaejovid subfamilies, genera and species, concise taxonomic treatments of each, cladograms illustrating phylogenetic relationships among them, a searchable specimen database, and downloadable products of our research, available to the public.



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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