Background: Arctic ecosystems, especially those near transition zones, are expected to be strongly impacted by climate change. Because it is positioned on the ecotone between tundra and boreal forest, the Churchill area is a strategic locality for the analysis of shifts in faunal composition. This fact has motivated the effort to develop a comprehensive biodiversity inventory for the Churchill region by coupling DNA barcoding with morphological studies. The present study represents one element of this effort; it focuses on analysis of the spider fauna at Churchill.
Results: 198 species were detected among 2704 spiders analyzed, tripling the count for the Churchill region. Estimates of overall diversity suggest that another 10-20 species await detection. Most species displayed little intraspecific sequence variation (maximum <1%) in the barcode region of the cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene, but four species showed considerably higher values (maximum = 4.1-6.2%), suggesting cryptic species. All recognized species possessed a distinct haplotype array at COI with nearest-neighbour interspecific distances averaging 8.57%. Three species new to Canada were detected: Robertus lyrifer (Theridiidae), Baryphyma trifrons (Linyphiidae), and Satilatlas monticola (Linyphiidae). The first two species may represent human-mediated introductions linked to the port in Churchill, but the other species represents a range extension from the USA. The first description of the female of S. monticola was also presented. As well, one probable new species of Alopecosa (Lycosidae) was recognized.
Conclusions: This study provides the first comprehensive DNA barcode reference library for the spider fauna of any region. Few cryptic species of spiders were detected, a result contrasting with the prevalence of undescribed species in several other terrestrial arthropod groups at Churchill. Because most (97.5%) sequence clusters at COI corresponded with a named taxon, DNA barcoding reliably identifies spiders in the Churchill fauna. The capacity of DNA barcoding to enable the identification of otherwise taxonomically ambiguous specimens (juveniles, females) also represents a major advance for future monitoring efforts on this group.