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WAM & UWA identify 56 new arachnids

One of the new species of arachnid discovered living underground in WA’s Pilbara. CREDIT: Western Australian Museum.

Charlotte Saxon, Adding to Australia’s arachnid count: 56 new species discovered, Brisbane Times, 20 June 2019

Researchers have discovered dozens of new species of arachnids living underground in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The 56 new species – formally called schizomids – were found by scientists from the University of Western Australia and the Western Australian Museum, their findings published the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

The arachnids have not yet been formally named, but researchers were able to use DNA sequences and physical characteristics to determine at least 56 new species from WA alone.

Lead researcher Dr Kym Abrams from UWA’s School of Biological Sciences said the research had doubled the number of named species currently known in Australia.

“Worldwide there are approximately 350 species known so once we’ve described these new species, Australia will have around one-third of the known schizomid fauna,” she said.

The arachnids also go by the name “whip-sprickets” thanks to their whip-like front legs and mixed spider and cricket-like appearance.

The schizomids have no eyes so their antenna-like front legs are used like a cane to tap the ground in front of them.

WA was already globally recognised as a hotspot for subterranean fauna, with an estimated 4000 species, according to Dr Abrams.

The research team believe there are many more out there because the arachnids have small distributions and are poor dispersers.

“This discovery of multiple new species of schizomids reinforces how unique and highly diverse the fauna is,” she said.

Ten species of schizomids are on the WA threatened fauna list due to their habitats being vulnerable to disturbance and destruction.

“Preserving habitat is important because subterranean schizomids are so well-adapted to dark, humid environments that they can’t survive on the surface and so can’t move to new habitat if their current habitat is destroyed,” Dr Abrams said.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2019
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