About 5 million years ago, the first spiny-legged Tetragnatha spider landed on what is now known as the Hawaiian Islands, with subsequent generations evolving into different species to fill in specific niches in various habitats. Now, these spiders provide evidence for nature’s propensity for generating diversity in a systematic way.
Two of many closely related spider species unique to the Hawaiian Islands. One group of spiny leg species has diversified into similar sets of species on different islands, as illustrated by the two spiders shown, Tetragnatha pilosa on the left and T. kauaiensis on the right. Despite their different appearances, they are very closely related. (Photos © 2004 David Liittschwager and Susan Middleton)
In a new paper published in the Jan. 16 issue of Science, University of California, Berkeley, biologist Rosemary Gillespie uses genetic detective work to describe how these spiders, otherwise common streamside inhabitants throughout the world, diversified to fill an entire spectrum of habitats in the Hawaiian Islands. Along the way, she challenges the assumption that the formation of communities through evolutionary processes in the remote Hawaiian archipelago is different from the way communities are assembled through immigration on a large continent.
"The Hawaiian Islands are often considered to be so unusual and remote that what happens there cannot be applied to other places," said Gillespie, professor of insect biology, director of the Essig Museum of Entomology at UC Berkeley and author of the paper. "What I’m showing is that the same kinds of things happen on these islands as elsewhere; it’s just that evolution plays more of a role."
Sarah Yang | UC - Berkeley
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