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Tales from the crypt: origins and evolutionary history of the cave-dwelling Dysderidae spiders in the Dinaric karst

Martina Pavlek (1, 2), Silvia Adrian (1), Fulvio Gasparo (3) & Miquel A. Arnedo (1)

(1) Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences & Biodiversity Research Institute,
Universitat de Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
(2) Croatian Biospelological Society, Zagreb, Croatia
(3) Commissione Grotte ‘E. Boegan’ Società Alpina delle Giulie, C.A.I., Trieste, Italy


Because of their large size, active predatory lifestyle and abundance, spiders of the family Dysderidae are among the most conspicuous creatures in European caves. In the Dinaric karst, cave-dwelling representatives belong to two out of three subfamilies, namely Rhodinae and Harpacteinae. The Rhodinae genera Stalita, Parastalita, Mesostalita and Stalitella, are exclusively formed by troglobiont species endemic to the Dinarides, while Rhode includes both epigean and subterranean species distributed in the central and western Mediterranean basin. The Harpacteinae are represented in the region by two subterranean genera, Stalagtia and Folkia, both Balkan endemics. Interestingly, Harpacteinae troglobiont species dwell in the southern Dinarides, while Rhodinae are mostly restricted to the northern part. The taxonomy of these groups, including their generic status, is a matter of debate and there has been no explicit, quantitative phylogenetic hypothesis about the relationships within or between the subfamilies so far. Here, we present the results of a multi-locus phylogenetic analysis using mitochondrial and nuclear genes of a thorough taxonomic sample both within Dysderidae and across most Synspermiata families. Our results support the monophyly of two subfamilies (Rhodinae and Dysderinae), but suggest that, as currently defined, Harpacteinae is not. All nominal genera within Rhodinae are indeed monophyletic. Conversely, within Harpacteinae the recovered clades are in conflict with current taxonomy, confirming previous suggestions that diagnostic traits at the genus level need to be re-evaluated. We further conducted a time estimation analyses using a combination of fossil and biogeographic node calibrations. Our time-stamped phylogenetic hypothesis allow us to further interrogate about the number and timing of the colonization events of the Dinaric underground environment.

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Martina Pavlek, Silvia Adrian, Fulvio Gasparo & Miquel A. Arnedo