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RESEARCH

Most EZ research is on spiders, a mega-diverse invertebrate order with 49,000 species, covering phylogenetic systematics, taxonomy, genomic and phenotypic evolution, behavior, biogeography and phylogeography, as well as biomaterial discovery and biotechnology. Our additional interests and projects delve into topics as diverse as biodiversity estimation, biological nomenclature, phylogenetic diversity and conservation, sexual selection, animal behavioral syndromes, global change biology, urbanization, environmental DNA analyses, and others.

 

We actively collaborate with numerous labs and colleagues on all continents. We also help train the next generation of evolutionary zoologists through our collaboration with domestic and foreign institutions (University of Ljubljana, Hubei University, Smithsonian Institution, University of Vermont, University of Akron, University of Hamburg, National University of Singapore, Kaohsiung Medical University) and agencies that sponsor our research (ARRS – Slovenian Research Agency, the European Commission, the National Geographic Society, Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft, Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung, The Explorers Club).

Phylogenetic Systematics and Biogeography

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Most of our ongoing projects have a phylogenetic systematics component, ranging from targeting species discoveries, definition of higher taxa, to phylogenetic analyses of morphological, behavioral and genomic data, to trait evolution and coevolutionary analyses, and to biogeographic and phylogeographic analyses. In our evolutionary studies we are interested in interspecific and intraspecific (intersexual) coevolutionary patterns and their causes. For example, our research delves into the interplay of sexual and natural selection that act on phenotypes. An example is our research on the causes and evolutionary correlates of extreme sexual size dimorphism and its accompanying traits such as web gigantism, sexually conflicted behaviors and morphologies. We study the links of phenotypic traits with organismal dispersal abilities and consequent speciation patterns, and with species richness variation. We are instrumental in facilitating the evolution of biogeography in its transition towards a modern, integrative science.

Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology

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We study the interactions between the sexes. Of special interest here is the coevolution of male and female mating strategies and their relation to sexual conflict. We study the evolutionary causes and consequences of extreme sexual size dimorphism, with an important focus on the estimation of sex specific genetic (co)variation in size related traits. We also study spider behavioral syndromes (personalities) in the context of cannibalism, sexual strategies, and species invasiveness, and ask whether and how sexual selection shapes personality variation. We also investigate the genetic architecture of personality traits between the sexes, how personalities relate to the ability to adapt to changing environments, and whether transgenerational plasticity can serve as a short time response towards anthropogenic changes.

Spider Web and Silk Research

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Our research builds on the phylogenetic understanding of the evolution of spider webs. As extended phenotypes that represent both a hunting and a protective device, webs undergo clade-specific and habitat-specific evolutionary changes that also relate to the laws of physics. We study the interplay of these factors by integrating genomics, comparative biomaterial analysis, functional ecology of entire webs in their environment, and web building behavior analyses. We are pioneering the utility of environmental DNA in spider webs, a technique that can detect whole communities of organisms in ecosystems, and that shows huge potential for next-generation biodiversity monitoring.