The venomous black widow spider is spreading farther north. Thanks to the data from citizen scientists, researchers were able to track changes in the distribution of rare spider species. They found that the black widow spider is occupying new habitats and it is likely that climate change has contributed to its continued colonization along the northern edge in Canada.
As global climate change alters environmental conditions, many animals are drawn to regions where they could not previously have found. However, these shifts in the distribution ranges have not been documented due to lack of information.
In the latest study, researchers combined the observations of citizen scientists and museum collectors and mapped the distribution of two spider species, the Northern black widow, and the Black purse-web spider. Researchers found that the arachnids are on the move and have become much more common in the farther north toward Canada, offering insights into how spiders are responding to global climate change.
"Our models show the first reliable distribution maps of these two species," said lead researcher Yifu Wang of McGill University.
“Distributions of spiders are relatively poorly known, and range maps are often based just on where scientists have found the species. Using Northern black widow spider and Black purse-web spider as examples, this paper illustrates that we can (and should!) incorporate citizen science data and distribution modeling techniques to help bridge the knowledge gaps of less-studied species."
To further validate the modeled distribution of each species, researchers aim to conduct large-scale sampling efforts. This will help to fill in some of the blanks about species distribution maps.
“We propose to call on citizen scientists by launching a monitoring project through a platform such as BugGuide and iNaturalist to produce a large-scale sampling effort,” said Wang. “This would represent a rapid, low-cost, highly efficient, and innovative way to test these large-scale predictive models."
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