Two new species of spiders for the Azores described by Researchers of Azorean Biodiversity Group

In the course of the research project “Predicting extinctions on islands: a multi-scale assessment” (ref. PTDC/BIA-BEC/100182/2008) in the Azorean Biodiversity Group, three new spider species were discovered.

One of these was already published in the journal Zootaxa (see past news about Savigniorrhipis topographicus from São Jorge, and the two remaining species were just published in the same journal.

During projects done prior to 2010, these two species were mistaken for the already known species Canariphantes acoreensis (Wunderlich, 1992), present in the central group of islands. It was only after new and more complete samples were made, that the true identity of these spiders was assessed. Despite their small sizes (all below 5 mm), these are species intimately connected with the last remaining patches of native forest in the Azores.

The species Canariphantes junipericola is only known the Natural Reserve of Caldeira Funda e Rasa and also from a site near Lagoa Seca, both in the island of Flores. Its latin name points out to the connection with the woodlands dominated by Juniperus brevifolia, where the majority of specimens was found. Despite it probably exists in other secluded sites in Flores Island, it appears to be limited to the shady woods of the former species, and only with the protection of this unique kind of habitat in the Azores archipelago we can assure the survival of this spider species.

The species Canariphantes relictus, as the previous species, is only known from one island, Santa Maria. The only known location where it can be found is the Pico Alto Nature Reserve, probably the smallest and the most endangered forest fragment in the entire archipelago of Azores, currently subject to a high degree of disturbance, both from invasive species and from humans. The latin name of this species refers to the necessity to conserve this forest fragment, given its evolutionary importance in the entire archipelago, because Santa Maria is the geologically older island of Azores (8.12 million years) and Pico Alto is considered an hotspot of the azorean biodiversity, where 57 endemic species can be found (21% of the whole archipelago) concentrated on only 0.25% of the whole native forest area of Azores.

Canariphantes relictus is also the first single-island endemic species of Santa Maria. This is relevant because previous studies had predicted the generalized extinction of endemic spiders from Santa Maria due to the loss of habitat, and that spiders are taken as a highly sensitive group to disturbance given their position in the trophic network, as predators. The authors hope that the description of these species can contribute to an increase of the awareness to conserve these forested areas.

Crespo, L.C., Bosmans, R., Cardoso, P. & Borges, P.A.V. (2014). On three endemic species of the linyphiid spider genus Canariphantes Wunderlich, 1992 (Araneae, Linyphiidae) from the Azores archipelago. Zootaxa, 3841: 403–417. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3841.3.5