In a press release, the California Academy of Sciences reports the discovery of 94 new species by its researchers in 2009 (full new species list). Of those, 65 are arthropods from the hexapod (insects) and chelicerate (arachnids, horseshoe crabs, and mites) sub-phyla.
Among the micro-orbweaving spider group alone there are 36 distinct species reported from the Yunnan province of China. This exemplifies an interesting feature of arthropods; that they seem to be very good at evolving. That is, something about their genetics, reproduction, or embryology permits them to speciate rapidly, filling every available niche within an environment. It can be said that “evolvability” is actually a desirable evolutionary trait, as far as the arthropods are concerned. More on this at a later date.
Richard Dawkins touches upon this idea briefly in “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which I just finished reading last night. I would strongly recommend this book for novices in evolutionary biology, as well as for experts who are interested in being presented with well-structured ways of thinking about evolutionary biology.
Photo: Miller et al., 2009