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Spider Conservation

In his book The World of Spiders, Bristowe (1958) refers to spiders as ‘the Jekylls and Hydes of the animal world, so deeply and in such different ways have their individualities impressed themselves on man.’ One the one hand, spiders engender feelings of fear and loathing in many people; indeed arachnophobia is one of the commonest human fears. On the other hand, however, many cultures have traditionally admired and respected spiders in their religious beliefs, folk-tales and customs.

Latest research suggests that the oldest true spiders date back about 300 milllion years to the Carboniferous period. Since then, spiders have diversified into some 43,678 species around the world, occupying almost every available habitat from the highest mountains to the deepest caves, and from the driest deserts to marshes and ponds. Indeed the Water Spider (Argyroneta aquatica) has evolved a remarkable underwater life.

According to the latest version of the Fauna Europaea Project some 4,736 species of spider are currently known in Europe, although some of these are regarded as nomina dubia (doubtful species), so its estimate the true number of spiders is about 4,500 species. Unfortunately, despite a great deal of scientific research into spiders has been undertaken around Europe, spiders have, until recently, been the focus of very little conservation interest or concern. Uniyal (2004) suggests the reasons for this lack of conservation concern is probably multi-faceted and 'maybe due to fear and dislike of their appearance, behaviors or venomous nature; the fact that most spiders are probably widely dispersed and not presumed to be threatened; or because relatively little is known about the distribution and abundance of these creatures.' Indeed, with so little data about the size or density of national, regional and local spider populations, it is not surprising that the conservation status of spiders is so unclear.

However, as Franc (1999) write: 'Although spiders are missing from the majority of European Red Lists, this does not mean that they are less threatened by human activities in the landscape than the well-known and popular butterflies, for example. Spiders are wingless animals and often have a very high bioindicative value, because they are usually more strongly tied to a biotope than are flying insects. Unfortunately, the occurrence of many spiders can be decreased by even subtle changes of their environment.' Indeed spiders, like most invertebrates, are today facing a range of threats such as habitat loss and degradation, changes in land-use, pollution and the introduction of alien species.

As an integral part of global biodiversity, fulfilling important roles both as predators and prey, spiders deserve conservation. Spider conservation can be achieved through a combination of habitat protection, distribution and status research, and increased public education.