Irinjalakuda, Thrissur: "When spiders unite, they can tie down a lion." This famous proverb amplifies the strength of the eight-legged arachnid. Spider diversity and distribution is still a less-explored area in India, though the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats is home to several rare spider species. A few years back, six new species of spiders were discovered by the Biodiversity Research Centre in Christ College, Irinjalakuda. This find had gained global attention, but the nine-member research team at the college has so far discovered about 16 new species through extensive surveys they conducted across the Western Ghats in half a decade. The European Spider Research Council, which functions under European society of Arachnology, has invited six members from the team to present their findings in their biennial summit commencing in the Hungarian capital on Sunday.
Commenting on the achievement, Dr Sudhikumar AV, the Head of Zoology research department at Christ College, told Onmanorama that their research threw up valuable information regarding the spider distribution in south India.
“The 16 species we have discovered from the Western Ghats so far have not yet been spotted elsewhere in the world. We have conducted detailed researches on how human invasions, forest fires and environmental changes affect the spider population here. Unfortunately, we noticed a drastic fall in the number of some exotic species in our repeated surveys. This is the research topic of one of the scholars invited to the biennial summit of European spider research council now,” he said.
In another unprecedented study, Sumesh NV, a PhD scholar at the college surveyed the distribution and count of spiders in Kerala's sacred groves. “We identified some species which are exclusively found in the ecosystem of a sacred grove. The sudden decrease in the number of sacred groves due to demolitions for infrastructural development has seriously affected the number of spiders and other insects inhabiting it,” he said.
The summit begins on July 8 in Budapest and will conclude on Friday. The journey of Christ College's spider-research team is jointly funded by the University Grants Commission, the Department of Science & Technology and the European Society for Arachnology.
Kashmeera NA, Sudhin PP, Dr Sudhikumar, Nafin KS, Sumesh and Drisya Mohan OM are the six researchers who have gained global recognition through their substantial studies in the field of Arachnology.
Focus on millipedes
Christ College's zoology research department has also been granted central aid of Rs 50 lakh for an exclusive millipede survey.(Millipedes are another group of arthropods like spiders.) Commenting on this, Sudhikumar said several other species of arthropods have never been a subject of academic research. “Millipede survey will be first of its kind in India. Though millipedes are rather common arthropods found in India, no authentic studies have been carried out on them so far. We expect such a worldwide exposure to that venture as well,” he added.
Sudhikumar, a PhD in spider research, has discovered around 10 varieties of arthropods from paddy fields and in the Western Ghats in Kerala.
Arthropods are invertebrate animals with external skeleton.