Venezuelan pholcids: setting the stage for a comprehensive revision
2018-2020, funded by the German Research Foundation, DFG

 
Venezuela: a hotspot with troubles
Venezuela poses a unique challenge to the study of pholcid spider systematics, for two main reasons. First, it ranks among the most diverse regions in the world, in particular for taxa with largely tropical distributions like Pholcidae. Second, Venezuela has been the focus of the arachnologist Manuel Ángel González-Sponga who between 1998 and 2011 created a total of 22 new genera for Venezuelan pholcids. Unfortunately, even though his collection is outstanding, much of his published work is deeply flawed for various reasons.

Revising the collection
González-Sponga
Previous efforts to evaluate González-Sponga’s genera and species were hampered by the inaccessibility of his private collection. As a result, work on Venezuelan pholcid spiders has been almost impossible. A previous DFG-funded expedition to Venezuela (2002, HU 980/1-1) resulted in ~35 species, ~15 of them new to science. Most of these remain undescribed, mainly because it is not clear if they belong to any of González-Sponga’s genera or species. For the same reason, Venezuelan Pholcidae are also underrepresented in an upcoming molecular phylogeny of the family (only 15 of 637 terminals). After González-Sponga’s death in 2009, his collection was transferred to the Museo del Instituto de Zoología Agrícola of the Universidad Central de Venezuela (MIZA) in Maracay. Part of the material (thousands of lots of arachnids) have been inventoried and catalogued, but many vials are not properly labeled (only with numbers), requiring taxon specialists to evaluate identities, recognize types, and secure detached body parts.

Short- and long-term aims
The aim of the present project is to initiate collaboration on Venezuelan pholcid spiders, by (1) removing the impediment created by González-Sponga’s inadequate descriptions; (2) training students at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Maracay in biodiversity-related research and winning one or more for work with pholcid spiders, and (3) drafting a joint collaborative project on Venezuelan pholcid spider taxonomy and systematics to be submitted at the end of the funding period..


The complete collection of pholcids of González-Sponga in the Museo del Instituto de Zoología Agrícola of the Universidad Central de Venezuela (MIZA) in Maracay.

First trip (November 2018)
In November 2018 I visited Venezuela in order to work, together with Osvaldo Villarreal and Quintin Arias, on the González-Sponga collection in Maracay and to visit some localities of specific interest. We went through he entire collection and do now have a very clear idea about what is there, what seems to be missing, and what requires further study and/or curatorial attention. A second trip (if possible) will provide the opportunity to finish this up and to develop a foolow-up project.