Habitat, Habitat, Habitat: Using Google Street View for scientific documentation

The old adage about the value of properties depending on “location, location, location” translates to non-humans as “habitat, habitat, habitat”. When we biodiversity scientists go out into to the world studying obscure species, one of the first things we want to learn is “what habitat does it live in?”. Our search for Pellenes logunovi focused on finding the right habitat.  When we finally find a species, we want to document its habitat, so that others may find it again later, and also to begin the long process of understanding its ecology. We can write simple descriptions like “on rock”, but better is to include photographs and other data. My brother religiously photographs the habitats in which he collects beetles, and I’m starting to follow his lead.

Now, to document a habitat (as place and time), scientists can use a wonderful new photographic tool: 360 degree photographs in Google Street View. Here’s one at the spot where we found the nearly-mythical Pellenes pulcher. You can see details of the microhabitat (the little rocks on the ground) and macrohabitat (Nanophyton steppe along the shores of Uvs Nuur). When you contribute a 360 degree view to Google Street View, it’s as if you’ve given the viewer a little time and space machine to take them to the exact spot and time where you found an interesting species.

Not exactly a street, but a Street View: habitat of Pellenes pulcher at Uvs Nuur, Tuva.

The value of 360 Street Views for scientific documentation would be considerably increased by two “minor” enhancements. The first would be to have some way to attach a searchable comment: my notes about what was found there, a collecting code to link to my databases, etc. I can’t figure out any way to attach a comment. The second would be to have some assurance that the view would remain accessible on Google Maps for at least 10 years or so. That assurance, of course, seems unlikely.

Even still, I’m glad to have the ability to post Street Views of a habitat, even limited as they are for now. To have them listed in one public place, here are some of our spider hunting locations in southern Siberia. The codes like WPM#18-009 are my standard codes referring to a collecting place and time (which I have been using since 1975!).


A Bounty of Sitticini

My trip to Siberia was designed to find special species of Pellenes jumping spiders, but I paid attention to other species also, for my other studies of jumping spiders. One of my projects is on a group called the Sitticini, which includes species familiar on houses in some areas (e.g., Sitticus fasciger, Sittipub pubescens), as well as species in many other habitats. Sitticines originated in South America and spread into Eurasia, where they diversified into many species, and, it turns out, evolved interesting chromosomes (but that story will be for another day).

Almost all of the sitticines we saw in Siberia were new to me. Most have muted colours, but one, Sitticus mirandus, has males with a blue and purple sheen on the face:

Sitticus mirandus, male.

For the jumping spider geeks, here are the 7 species of sitticines we found. In each set of photos, the male is on the left, the female on the right.

Attulus ammophilus
I’ve known this species for many years, as it was introduced into North America in the 20th century. It’s good to see it in its native continent.

Attulus ammophilus, male and female, from the shores of Uvs Nuur.

Attulus avocator
Very similar to A. ammophilus, but more solidly black first leg.

Attulus avocator, male and female, from the Irbitey River in Tuva

Attulus burjaticus
This cute species I called “clown”. It was pretty common in isolated grass clumps in dry areas of Tuva.

Attulus burjaticus, male and female, from Tuva.

Attulus mirandus
This is the purple-sheened guy shown above. I found just one male and one female of this marvellous species.

Attulus mirandus, male and female, from the Tes-Khem River, Tuva.

Sittiflor inexpectus
From the marshy shores of lakes in Tuva.

Sittiflor inexpectus, male at left, from Uvs Nuur Lake. I’m haven’t confirmed that the female shown at right is the same species.

Sittiflor zimmermani
A sweet little species from leaf litter and dead trees near Karasuk.

Sittiflor zimmermani, male and female, from Karasuk.

Sitticus terebratus
On buildings; taxonomically important as the type species of Sitticus.

Sitticus terebratus, male and female, from Karasuk and Novosibirsk.

Success in Siberia

I’m back (not that you noticed I wasn’t posting), and can give you the final summary of my field work in Siberia to look for Pellenes jumping spiders: success. It was a challenge. July is past the typical breeding season, and with most males gone to the next trophic level, we were left to look for the harder-to-find females and juveniles. In the end, we found every one of our targets.

I’ve already posted about our finding Pellenes logunovi, P. limbatus, and P. sibiricus, as well as P. gobiensis and P. stepposus. Those we found on the first major trip out from Novosibirsk, to the Altai. For the second major trip, to Tuva, there was one big target left: Pellenes pulcher.

Pellenes pulcher, a member of a distinctive group of species important for my studies, was known from only a few specimens from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Russia. The only Russian locality was in the Uvs Nuur basin, a unique area of special steppes and salt lakes that is primarily in Mongolia, but just reaches north into Tuva, a republic in the Russian Federation. The precise locality from which Dmitri Logunov had collected it more than 20 years ago was right along the Mongolian border where Uvs Nuur Lake peeks into Russia.

Pellenes pulcher, male, from the north shore of Uvs Nuur.

As happened with P. logunovi and P. gobiensis, Galina Azarkina saved the day by finding the first female of P. pulcher, thereby figuring out that they live on the rocks of their strange steppe habitat: the tiny round woody “bushes” of Nanophyton, only a centimetre or two tall, dot the landscape, making it look like a bonsai savannah. In the end we got one male and four females. As its name suggests, P. pulcher is beautiful both in appearance (striped!) and personality (vivacious! — they hop a lot). Above is the male; here is the female and other views of the male. Notice the elegantly long first legs of the male, and his reddish jaws.

Pellenes pulcher, female and male, from Tuva.

And so, in the end, we got 7 species of Pellenes. Here are the other 6, in retrospect.

P. logunovi
We got only females and juveniles. Here are two females to show variation in colours.

Pellenes logunovi females, from the Altai.

P. sibiricus
Closely related to the well-known European P. tripunctatus, we got only a few, but both males and females.

Pellenes sibiricus, female and male. We found it at Karasuk and in Tuva.

P. limbatus
We found just three, two old decrepit males, and a juvenile female. I kept the female alive, and am feeding it in hopes it will mature.

Pellenes limbatus, male, from the Altai.

P. gobiensis
We got only females and babies.

Pellenes gobiensis, females, from the Altai.

P. stepposus
Although this is currently considered a Pellenes, I suspect this isn’t a Pellenes, but rather a Sibianor. It was common on bushes in the drier steppes.

Pellenes stepposus, female and male. We found it in the Altai and Tuva.

P. epularis?
I’m not sure about the identity of this. We found four juveniles, including this one, in the Altai. They look similar to P. epularis that Galina found recently in Kazakhstan. I am trying to raise them to maturity to figure out what they are.

Juvenile Pellenes, possibly P. epularis. From the Altai.