Barcoding New Zealand Spiders

With two species of native land mammal – both bats – and only 131 species of land-based birds, New Zealand is often considered to be a species-poor land mass. However, with an estimated 2000 species of spiders, invertebrate taxa are the exception to this rule. Such species richness compares favourably with much larger land masses such as that of North America, which has around 3500 species.

A collaborative project has recently begun in New Zealand to catalogue and barcode both the endemic and introduced spiders. The initial goal – now completed as part of the A Photographic Guide to Spiders of New Zealand – was to barcode the 90 species of spiders most commonly encountered in New Zealand. This ongoing project involving researchers from the University of Waikato, Canterbury Museum and the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, now aims to barcode a further 1200 specimens from throughout New Zealand before March 2015. Two summer research students, Nigel Binks and Annie West at the University of Waikato are working in conjunction with naturalist and photographer Bryce McQuillan and are undertaking the bulk of the collecting/curating work.

Spider systematist Cor Vink at the Canterbury Museum is also undertaking collecting in New Zealand's South Island and providing his expertise on the identification of specimens. All data are being added to BOLD and will contribute to the New Zealand Barcode of Life (NZBOL) programme and ultimately enable comparison with extensive datasets such as those available on BOLD.

From the specimens collected thus far we have found high intraspecific morphological variability based on age, sex and likely environmental factors. For example, the Badumna genus, commonly known as the grey house spider, shows a wide range of colour morphs among specimens. Once considered a single species, we now know that the grey house spider is characterized by at least three separate species, including two described species (Badumna longinqua, Badumna insignis) and one currently undescribed species. Such variety renders morphological identification somewhat challenging particularly for novice collectors.

Despite the estimated 2000 species of spiders, only 1134 are currently described and many specimens can only be assigned to family level. With 95% of species thought to be endemic, accurate identification of New Zealand's spiders will require the robust coverage of taxa envisaged as part of this research project.