Philippine Islands Biodiversity Project

by Norman D. Penny and Charles E. Griswold


In early 2011 the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) decided to launch a multi-disciplinary project to study the biodiversity of the Philippine Islands.  Researchers and students would go to the Philippines and together with Philippine scientists and students collect for up to six weeks during the period of May and June.

Curculionidae. Photo by Rachel Diaz-Bastin.

Assembling the Tree of Life (ATOL), Spiders

by Charles Griswold

The aim is to collect specimens and tissues of representatives of all major clades of spiders (about 1000 taxa) to provide combined molecular, morphological and behavioral data to produce a phylogeny of all spiders.  This is supported by the NSF ATOL program, through a grant to Griswold and collaborators.  Fieldwork focuses on areas of key taxa in spider phylogeny.

Nahualbuta, Chile, in Araucaria forest, 2008, home to many endemic spiders. Photo by Charles Griswold

Goblin Spider Planetary Biodiversity Inventory (PBI)

by Charles Griswold

An international team of 40 researchers from 12 countries is attempting to describe and map all of the world’s 2000+ species of goblin spiders (Oonopidae) in 7 years time.  The project is supported by the NSF Planetary Biodiversity Initiative program with Griswold as a PI.

Charles Griswold’s students Daniela Andriamalala and Alma Saucedo searching for goblin spiders at Mitsinjo, Madagascar, during the 2009 PBI expedition. Photo by Nikolaj Scharff.

The North American species of Nebria (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Nebriini): classification, phylogeny, zoogeography, and natural history

by Dave Kavanaugh

The genus Nebria includes more than 550 described species and subspecies, classified among 27 different subgenera, and distributed throughout the cool and cold regions of Eurasia, North Africa, and North America.  Active mainly at night, both adults and larvae are predators of other arthropods and, especially in the extreme high mountain habitats, are often the most abundant (dominant) invertebrate predators in these areas.  More than 80 species are found in North America.  My project, begun in the late 1960’s, aims to discover, describe, and provide formal names for all the North America species, define their geographical and habitat ranges and their life cycle time and other aspects of their life history, and reconstruct their genealogical (phylogenetic) relationships through comparative study of their morphology (form and structure) and DNA sequence data. 

Nebria ingens Horn. Photo by David H. Kavanaugh

The carabid beetle fauna of the Gaoligong Mountains, western Yunnan Province, China

by Dave Kavanaugh

As part of the Academy’s multidisciplinary, multi-institutional project to inventory the biodiversity of the Gaoligong Mountains of Yunnan, China, I’ve been involved over the past decade with an inventory of the carabid beetles of that region in collaboration with Dr. Hong-Bin Liang of the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and several other specialists in Europe.  I participated in eleven expeditions to the region during the period 1998-2007. To date, more than 40,000 specimens, representing over 530 different carabid beetle species, have been collected, prepared, and identified.  At least 80% of these species are new to science. 

Aristochroa splendens Kavanaugh & Liang.  Photo by David H. Kavanaugh.

Wasps, Australia

by Wojciech Pulawski


My big travels started with a revision of the world species of the wasp genus Gastrosericus, for which I received a National Science Foundation grant.  To collect specimens, I visited Thailand, India, and Pakistan in 1989.  One spectacular stroke of luck awaited me at the  Krishnaghiri Upawan National Park near Bombay, where I found a good series of Gastrosericus wroughtoni, known at that time from a single specimen described exactly one hundred years before, in 1889, and kept at The Natural History Museum, London. There were some dramatic moments as well: one night, in the center of Kirthar National Park, armed men started banging on the doors of our guesthouse, and my Pakistani companions shake like leaves and kept asking me “What can we do?”

Changes in the altitudinal distributions of North American Nebria (Coleoptera: Carabidae) as indicators of climate change

by Dave Kavanaugh

Having studied the geographical and altitudinal distributions of mountain-dwelling Nebria species in North America over a span of more than 30 years has provided me with the experience and perspective to recognize that the altitudinal ranges of many, if not all, of these species have shifted over that period, all of them upward, most likely in response to a warming climate. 

Nebria sierra Kavanaugh. Photo by Dong Lin.

The carabid beetles of Madagascar

by Dave Kavanaugh

I participated in expeditions to Madagascar in 1998 and 2000, both to Ranomafana National Park.  Based on material that I and my students and other associates collected on these expeditions, and on the rich and diverse material collected through Madagascar by other Academy teams lead by my colleagues Charles Griswold and Brian Fisher over the past decade, I am re-examining the carabid fauna of Madagascar.  Although several volumes have been written about the Malagasy carabid fauna over the past 60 years, many new species, from all parts of the island, are represented among specimens now at the Academy. 

Mormolycina oberthuri Fairmaire.  Photo by David H. Kavanaugh.

Carabid beetles of western North America

by Dave Kavanaugh

My continuing fieldwork in western North America is broad in geographical scope, but focused on habitats and areas threatened by habitat destruction, climate change, and/or introduced invasive species.  Perhaps surprising to most people is the fact that many new species remain to be discovered in this region, and virtually all of the species of the region are too poorly known for us to understand their basic survival requirements.  I’m involved in adding to our inventory of the diversity of the region by describing new species as I find discovered them.  I’m also involved, with numerous colleagues, in trying to learn more about the basic life histories of some of our local threatened or endangered carabid beetle species.

Elaphrus viridis Horn.  Photo by Dong Lin.