Where have all the spiders gone? The decline of a poorly known invertebrate fauna in the agricultural and arid zones of southern Australia
School of Natural Sciences
Earth is currently experiencing the sixth mass extinction of complex multi-cellular life, the first at the hands of a single species. The documented extinctions of iconic (mostly vertebrate and plant) taxa dominate the discourse, while poorly known invertebrate species are disappearing ‘silently’, sometimes without having ever been described. Here, we highlight the decline of elements of the trapdoor spider (Mygalomorphae: Idiopidae) fauna of southern Australia – a taxonomically poorly documented yet diverse assemblage of long-lived fossorial predators. We show that a number of trapdoor spider species may be threatened after a century of intensive land clearing and stocking, and that remaining populations in some areas may be experiencing serious contemporary population declines. So, how do we conserve this fauna? We suggest that baseline systematic studies are crucial, and that follow-up surveys, including integrative citizen science solutions, should be used to assess where remnant populations still exist, and whether they can persist into the future. Detailed population genetic research on a handful of carefully chosen taxa could be broadly informative, and ongoing natural history studies remain invaluable. Although solutions may be limited in the face of ongoing habitat degradation and other threats, urgently quantifying declines has implications not just for spiders but for mitigating against the mass extinction of poorly known invertebrate taxa across the globe.