Research Summary: Tracking a Medically Important Spider: Climate Change, Ecological Niche Modeling, and the Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa)


Most spiders use venom to paralyze their prey and are commonly feared for their potential to cause injury to humans. In North America, one species in particular, Loxosceles reclusa (brown recluse spider, Sicariidae), causes the majority of necrotic wounds induced by the Araneae. However, its distributional limitations are poorly understood and, as a result, medical professionals routinely misdiagnose brown recluse bites outside endemic areas, confusing putative spider bites for other serious conditions. To address the issue of brown recluse distribution, we employ ecological niche modeling to investigate the present and future distributional potential of this species. We delineate range boundaries and demonstrate that under future climate change scenarios, the spider’s distribution may expand northward, invading previously unaffected regions of the USA. At present, the spider’s range is centered in the USA, from Kansas east to Kentucky and from southern Iowa south to Louisiana. Newly influenced areas may include parts of Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. These results illustrate a potential negative consequence of climate change on humans and will aid medical professionals in proper bite identification/treatment, potentially reducing bite misdiagnoses.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 25-March-2011

Author(s): Saupe E., Papes M., Selden P., Vetter R.


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