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We continue to look at variation in the black widow spider’s behavior, ecology and evolution—testing the general hypothesis that an understanding of such variation will better enable us to manage this urban pest of medical importance whilst minimizing the use of pesticides. Our focus has been on quantifying variation across metropolitan Phoenix aggregations, though we are slowly adding outer-lying, desert “undisturbed” spiders as well for comparison. For example, recent studies have documented substantial levels of ecological variation within urban aggregations (e.g. population density of spiders and their prey, spider body mass, and spider nutrient composition), but little population genetic variation across these urban aggregations—suggesting to us that urban fragmentation is complex, but that gene flow for urban arthropods may be extensive. Current studies are aimed at mapping phenotypic correlates (behavior and morphology) to this genetic and ecological variation.



January 2006 — Ongoing