The Spider Diversity of British Columbia
- Darren Copley, Vertebrate Collections Manager and Mammal and Bird Preparator
- Robb Bennett, Research Associate
Claudia Copley has been interested in “the little things that run the world” since childhood and recognizes the importance of museum collections in furthering this knowledge, whether it is through her own work or facilitating the research of others.
Darren Copley ’s research interests span many taxa, from invertebrates to vertebrates, and he has particular expertise in spider taxonomy and identifications. His skill in the field at collecting invertebrates is matched by his ability to document, by song or call, the various bird species encountered during fieldwork, which dovetails naturally with his career as a vertebrate collections manager at the Royal BC Museum.
Robb Bennett did his doctoral degree in spider systematics and is interested in spider taxonomy and faunistics. He has described many new species and is considered a leading expert in the family Cybaeidae in North America and Canadian spider fauna in general.
My overall goal with this project is to document the diversity of spiders in British Columbia through a comprehensive survey—something that has never been done in the province’s history. Estimates suggest there are more than 1,000 species of spiders (Araneae) in BC; approximately 900 have been recorded so far, with many habitats in the province yet to be sampled.
Until relatively recently, the survey effort was predominantly conducted along roads and railways, generally at low elevation, with the southern third of the province seeing the most intensive effort. There were still some major gaps in our knowledge, particularly in the north and at higher elevations. To address this imbalance, field expeditions have focused on alpine areas.
Field expeditions allow us to investigate patterns of spider species distributions in British Columbia and, by making broad, generalized collections in these remote sites, facilitate research on arthropods other than spiders and improve the Royal BC Museum’s collections. As high-elevation fauna are particularly vulnerable to climate-change effects, baseline information on distributions and patterns of abundance is especially valuable.
Each year the project team visits several mountains, each for a few days, setting traps and hand collecting the area thoroughly. At each site we endeavour to reach as many different habitats as possible and collect specimens of every species that we encounter. Approximately 5,000 invertebrate specimens are collected annually. For field expeditions, we have been coordinating with the museum’s alpine botany team to find efficiencies, reducing costs and combining our reporting to funders.
All collections are handled with taxon-appropriate techniques, and all specimens and data collected are preserved in the museum and held in perpetuity for current and future research. A complete list of all specimens collected each year is provided to funders, partners and collaborators, and occurrences of rare species as well as species with interesting distributions are noted. This helps to guide provincial conservation planning. New specimen collections through this research project have also led to a growing interest from other researchers borrowing specimens across all taxa.
Media interest in spider research is high, and the Royal BC Museum’s alpine fieldwork has been featured on CBC's Quirks and Quarks and on National Public Radio in the United States, as well as in many local radio, television and and newspaper stories.
The project has established a collaborative network that includes a diverse array of “communities”—researchers, citizen scientists, non-governmental organizations, industry and government—helping us procure specimens, whether by donating collected material, funding our fieldwork, or contributing in-kind resources with the provision of vehicles, staff time and so on. Our work with the Barcode of Life lab (Centre for Biodiversity Genomics) at Guelph University exemplifies the collaborative nature of the project: every year we send new records to add to their DNA database, and in return we use their database to confirm new species.
Recent funding support
- BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development
- BC Ministry of Environment (BC Parks)
- Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
- Tumbler Ridge Geopark
|“Checklist of the Spiders (Araneae) of British Columbia.” In E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia, edited by Brian Klinkenberg (Vancouver: Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, 2020).||Bennett, R., D. Blades,
G. Blagoev, D. Buckle,
C. Copley, D. Copley,
C. Dondale and R.C. West.
|“Araneae of Canada.” ZooKeys 819 (2019): 41–56.||Bennett, R. G. Blagoev and C. Copley.|
|“Summer 2018 Alpine Biodiversity Fieldwork: Collections of Plants, Insects, Spiders and Fungi from Biologically Undocumented Mountains.” What’s inSight Spring 2019.||Marr, K., and C. Copley.|
|“Sugar Thief.” What’s InSight Spring 2015.||Marr, K., and C. Copley.|
|“Apostenus ducati (Araneae: Liocranidae) sp. nov.: A Second Nearctic Species in the Genus.” Zootaxa 3647 (2013): 63-74.||Bennett, R.G., C. Copley, and D. Copley.|