Research project: Investigations of Australian web-building spiders
- Start date:
Greek myths have provided a rich source of names for the spider genera we recognize today. One of the Greek names given to a genus of spiders that occurs in Australia is Poltys (the name of a Greek king). Poltys are orb-web spiders and the genus is little-known, even though the spiders are common all along the well-populated eastern coast of Australia. These spiders take down their webs at dawn, and during the day mimic a lump on the dead twig on which they rest. This strange but very effective camouflage combined with a confusing variety of body shapes made this genus of spiders an intriguing subject for my doctoral studies. This work led to many spin-off projects on other web-building spiders (pun intended!), some of which continue today.
One of the most successful projects (with John Gollan and Matthew Bulbert) has been the development of a BugWise resource called Web-2-Spider. This guide allows non-specialists to assess the diversity of web-building spiders by looking at the structure of spider webs in their study plots. Web-2-Spider proved to be a great educational tool and, along with other BugWise material, has now been taken over by the Australian Museum's Science Communication Unit. Grant funding acquired by the Unit will enable the BugWise tools to be adapted for use in schools as part of the Science in the Suburbs and Science in the Bush initiatives. I will continue to provide scientific advice for the project.
Many grants from a variety of sources supported my PhD and the original BugWise project (although grants were not in my name for the latter). Current funding (I was not involved in the application) is a DECC Environmental Trust grant to the Science Communication Unit.