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Scientists have discovered 15 new species of "smiley-faced" spiders and named them after David Attenborough, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Bernie Sanders among others.
In a study published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, researchers detailed the new spider species named Spintharus davidattenboroughi, S barackobamai, S michelleobamaae, and S berniesandersi as well as S davidbowiei and S leonardodicaprioi.
"In naming these spiders, the students and I wanted to honor people who stood up for both human rights and warned about climate change - leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world," said Ingi Agnarsson, professor at University of Vermont in the US.
Until now, the yellow, smiley-faced spiders in the genus Spintharus - named for a smiley face pattern on their abdomens - have been thought to have one widespread species "from northern North America down to northern Brazil," Agnarsson said.
However, when researchers examined spiders from Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Florida, South Carolina, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia, they discovered that one widespread species was actually many endemic species.
The team was able to identify and formally describe fifteen new species.
Each student who helped describe the spiders also got to name a few of them - and some were named after their family members, said Lily Sargeant, one of the students who worked on the project.
The Caribbean region has long been known to scientists as a major global hotspot for biological diversity. The leading spider expert on the Spintharus genus in earlier decades, Herbert W Levi (1921-2014), had concluded that differences he observed in these spiders across a wide swath of geography represented variation within one species.
However, newer molecular techniques used by the researchers show otherwise.
The spiders have not been interbreeding or exchanging genes for millions of years.
"Thoughts about conservation change dramatically when you go from having a common, widespread species to an endemic on, say, Jamaica that has very specific conservation needs," Agnarsson said.
"All the sudden we have fifteen-fold increase in diversity in this particular group - just because we did a detailed study," he said.
"We need to understand and protect biodiversity in its many forms, and we felt compelled to recognize leaders that understand this," he added.
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