Grant Enables Biologist to Study Spiders, Millipedes
By Erica Plouffe Lazure
An ECU biologist has received three grants from the National Science Foundation to study millipedes and spiders.
Jason Bond, professor of biology at ECU, is documenting, studying
and cataloguing species from around the world in an effort to further
what is known about these diverse, yet understudied, arthropod groups.
The first grant, called Partnership for Enhancing Expertise in
Taxonomy (PEET), shared with Dr. Petra Sierwald at the Field Museum of
Natural History in Chicago will enable Bond to enlist graduate and
undergraduate students to research and update what is known about
Millipedes, commonly referred to as thousand-leggers, are in fact
leggy (not quite a thousand legs), long cylindrical creatures with a
hardened protective exoskeleton. Bond said that only a fraction of an
estimated 80,000 species of millipede are known and catalogued.
|Millipedes, like the one shown above, are under study by ECU biologist Jason Bond. (Contributed photo)
The research grant for $750,000 will formally begin Jan. 1.
At its most basic level I am training students to classify and
describe new species of millipedes, Bond said of the PEET grant. We
always start by examining specimens from museum collections and then go
out into the field to collect more.
Students from Bonds lab spend time in the collections at the
Smithsonian, American Museum of Natural History, and the Field Museum
of Natural History and do field work all over the world.
Bond has also received a second grant from the NSF, called
Revisionary Syntheses in Systematics, in 2003. It has enabled him to
study species of trapdoor spiders and contribute to the National
Science Foundations Tree of Life project, which will eventually name
and categorize 1.7 million animal species. Bond said he had identified
30 to 40 new species of the trapdoor spider during this time. Last year
Bond and his students described new species of trapdoor spiders from
California, North Carolina, and South Africa.
Bond collaborates with colleagues from around the country and world
and serves as a co-investigator with scientists at museums of natural
history in Chicago, Washington D.C., and New York. The biodiversity
aspect of both projects is important, said Bond, because it equips
scientists with information that will help them to better understand
biodiversity and strategies for its preservation. In some cases, areas
that had once been on record as a habitat for a millipede or spider
species are now developed parcels of land.
Were just trying to document what is here now. There are species
in museum collections that no longer exist in nature. There is a
general attitude, that if we save the habitats of large animals, we
conserve the small animals habitat in the process, Bond said. That
is not always the case because many millipedes and spiders, for
example, have incredibly restricted distributions.
In addition to collecting, cataloguing and describing millipede and
spider species these myriapods and arachnids are also being surveyed
through molecular, DNA, approaches.
We use DNA to examine evolutionary relationships at many levels in
the history of life, from the relationships of families to species and
populations, Bond said.
In particular were very interested in the process of speciation.
Bond and other members of the Department of Biology in 2003 also
received a third grant for $250,000 from the National Science
Foundation for a scanning electron microscope. This scope enhances
teaching and biodiversity studies at East Carolina University.