Honorary Lecturer & Researcher, University of Manchester

I have had a life-long fascination with all things creepy crawly and still vividly remember exactly how this came about. My qualifications include a BSc in Zoology and a PhD in amber palaeobiology. I am a member of the British Arachnological Society, The Systematics Association, a Fellow of the Linnean Society and a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and also one of its regional (Manchester) representatives. Following my PhD I worked as Assistant Keeper of Zoology at Manchester Museum for 18 months, before embarking on a post-doc at the University of Manchester studying fossil spiders. Following completion of the post-doc I have retained honorary research status at the University of Manchester, most recently as an Honorary Lecturer in the Faculty of Life Sciences. I have extensive experience of ecology and biodiversity fieldwork in many different countries, including the tropics and taught on residential ecology field courses for 15 years. I also run the scientific publishing company Siri Scientific Press, part of Siri Scientific Services, which also offers consultancy services in a wide range of areas including fossil and living spider and insect identification (please email me with any queries).

Research interests
My research interests focus on extant and fossil spiders and insects. They cover a broad spectrum taxonomically, geographically, geologically and theoretically. They include: extant and fossil spider taxonomy and systematics; evolutionary history of spiders; the qualitative and quantitative use of data in testing hypotheses of palaeoecology and palaeogeography; preservation bias of organisms preserved in amber; reconstruction of fossil ecosystems; the effects of mass extinctions on terrestrial invertebrate faunas; the timing of the radiations of the major extant spider families; the completeness versus the adequacy of the spider fossil record; predator–prey co-evolutionary processes; and the origins and current biodiversity of the Greater Antillean spider fauna. I am particularly interested in the application of amber derived data in quantitative palaeobiological studies of broad interest.

Some highlights include demonstrating that amber is biased to preserving active, trunk-dwelling faunas (Paleobiology 2002), that spiders survived the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event (Evolution 2003), that spiders co-radiated alongside their insect prey over geological time (Trans. R. Soc. Edinburgh, Earth Sci. 2004), that extant and fossil Hispaniolan spider assemblages are directly comparable (Palaeo3 2005) and have South American origins (Book: Dominican Amber Spiders, 2008), that different amber faunas retain ecological information and are directly comparable in this respect (Royal Society, Biology Letters 2006), description of the oldest orb-weaving spider (Royal Society, Biology Letters 2006), the novel application of VHR computed tomography to amber inclusions (Zootaxa 2007, 2011; Naturwissenschaften 2011; Royal Society, Biology Letters 2011; Paleontological Journal 2012; Bull. Brit. Arachnol. Soc. 2012), a full review of the amber and non-amber spider fossil record (Biological Reviews 2010 – updated and illustrated in my 2011 monograph book on Fossil Spiders; with summary statistics of palaeospecies taxonomy ZooKeys 2012), erection of a new fossil spider family (Bull. Brit. Arachnol. Soc. 2011), and a unique case of springtail phoresy on an adult mayfly (PLoS ONE 2012). I co-author (with Jason Dunlop in Berlin) the World Fossil Arachnid Species Checklist which is hosted on the World Spider Catalog website and is updated every six months, and we recently (2012) co-authored a full colour monograph book on Fossil Arachnids.

I am also interested in extant faunas, where my recent research has focused on the biodiversity and ecology of arachnids and insects in The Gambia, West Africa, resulting in the publication of several field guides and scientific papers, and also on epiphytic invertebrate communities in the Neotropics (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 2011). Recently (2013) I have edited a multi-authored volume on spider research in the 21st century and am currently writing a book on fossil insects, with various others also under consideration. I recently undertook a short project (with Prof. Terry Brown & Prof. Richard Preziosi) to attempt DNA extraction from subfossilized bees Trigonisca ameliae (Apidae: Apinae: Meliponini) in Colombian copal using next generation sequencing techniques (PLoS ONE, 2013) and have also been dabbling with other aspects of recent molecular DNA research with colleagues in Wales (PLoS ONE, 2013). All my publications are listed at the bottom of this page. During the aDNA work we developed a technique for extracting inclusions from copal, permitting identification of a new species of bee which was named after my daughter (Paleontological Contributions, 2013). We also 14C dated Colombian copal samples and obtained dates ranging from post World War II back to 10,600 years-old (PLoS ONE, 2013), the oldest yet recorded for this subfossil resin.

Experience

  • –present
    Honorary Lecturer and Researcher, University of Manchester