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The phylogenetic placement of Psechridae within Entelegynae and the convergent origin of orb-like spider webs

Authors

  • Ingi Agnarsson,

    Corresponding author
    1. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA
    • Department of Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA
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  • Matjaž Gregorič,

    1. Institute of Biology, Scientific Research Centre, Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia
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  • Todd A. Blackledge,

    1. Department of Biology and Integrated Bioscience Program, University of Akron, Akron, OH, USA
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  • Matjaž Kuntner

    1. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA
    2. Institute of Biology, Scientific Research Centre, Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia
    3. College of Life Sciences, Hubei University, Wuhan, Hubei, China
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Corresponding author: Ingi Agnarsson (iagnarsson@gmail.com)

Abstract

Evolutionary convergence of phenotypic traits provides evidence for their functional success. The origin of the orb web was a critical event in the diversification of spiders that facilitated a spectacular radiation of approximately 12 000 species and promoted the evolution of novel web types. How the orb web evolved from ancestral web types, and how many times orb-like architectures evolved in spiders, has been debated for a long time. The little known spider genus Fecenia (Psechridae) constructs a web that resembles the archetypical orb web, but morphological data suggest that Psechridae (Psechrus + Fecenia) does not belong in Orbiculariae, the ‘true orb weavers’, but to the ‘retrolateral tibial apophysis (RTA) clade’ consisting mostly of wandering spiders, but also including spiders building less regular webs. Yet, the data are sparse and no molecular phylogenetic study has estimated Fecenia's exact position in the tree of life. Adding new data to sequences pulled from GenBank, we reconstruct a phylogeny of Entelegynae and phylogenetically test the monophyly and placement of Psechridae, and in doing so, the alternative hypotheses of monophyletic origin of the orb web and the pseudo-orb versus their independent origins, a potentially spectacular case of behavioural convergence. We also discuss the implications of our results for Entelegynae systematics. Our results firmly place a monophyletic Psechridae within the RTA clade, phylogenetically distant from true orb weavers. The architectural similarities of the orb and the pseudo-orb are therefore clearly convergent, as also suggested by detailed comparisons of these two web types, as well as the spiders' web-building behaviours and ontogenetic development. The convergence of Fecenia webs with true orbs provides a remarkable opportunity to investigate how these complex sets of traits may have interacted during the evolution of the orb.

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