guidance on recording spiders

What is a biological record and what should we record?

A basic biological record consists of a taxon name, date, place, grid reference, recorder and determiner or identifier. It is also helpful to have broad and detailed habitat information, whether adult or juvenile, sex of individuals and any other observations in order to enable better understanding of ecology and phenology – information not recorded is wasted information e.g. many invertebrates are associated more with structural features of habitats than NVC (National Vegetation Classification) types and it is very useful to record this structural habitat information. If at all possible please use accurate dates or range of dates rather than vague months or even years. However, if information is not recorded in a defined structured way, it will not be usable in analyses, and phase 2 of the recording scheme attempts to build on phase 1 recording to enable autecological, phenological and habitat management features to be recorded in ways that can increase our knowledge of every species of spider present in Britain.

Some important objectives of phase 2 of the scheme are listed here:

  • Distribution – to enable us to map distribution at different levels of accuracy nationally and regionally.
  • Ecology – to record information that will help to understand the ecology and behaviour of organisms.
  • Phenology – to record information that can be used to study the phenology of species and how this might vary over latitude and longitude or alter with climate change.
  • Conservation status – to provide information on occurrence and abundance to help inform the assessment of conservation status, and use this to make priorities about habitat management, development, etc.
  • Change – to provide data that can be used to analyse change, e.g. in distribution and phenology, over time.
  • For this we need good coverage and plenty of data – this is what the use of the MapMate biological recording and mapping software can help to achieve.

The importance of accurate Identification and Verification

Records based on unreliable taxon identification are worse than useless. They are a positive menace. Once they get into biological databases and publications they are very difficult to correct or prevent continual reappearance.

For this reason we have Area Organisers, a Verification Panel and a National Organiser who centralise and accept records. Area Organisers are especially important in making sure that recorders have the necessary skills to record reliably and in checking identifications, especially for species of note or outside their expected range. With many invertebrates, reliable identification cannot be done in the field, and voucher specimens are required. This should be noted in a biological record. In MapMate for example, this can be done in record entry by entering “!v” after the quantity in the quantity field. This automatically enters “Voucher retained” in the Comment field.

Validation (ensuring that data have been correctly entered) is also an important issue – data entry by non-specialists of other people’s data all too often results in errors such as the entry of inaccurate and wildly impossible taxa without the non-specialist being aware of the significance of what they have done. It is crucial that systems are in place to enable the checking of such data entry by specialists. It may be easy for them to spot gross errors, but much more difficult to eliminate other errors.

Where particular care is needed in recording

Please record species found at an unusual time of year with great caution, and if in any doubt whatsoever get your specimens checked by the Area Organiser and if necessary a member of our Verification Panel. Use the adult season charts in the provisional atlas as a guide, e.g. Linyphia triangularis is exclusively adult as a late summer/autumn species, sometimes surviving into the winter—but if you believe you have this species from earlier in the summer, then you are almost certainly misidentifying the spider for Neriene peltata, which although a somewhat smaller spider has a rather similar epigyne.

Any species found in an unexpected part of the country or outside its normal range should be checked by the Area Organiser, and if there might be any doubt, also by our Verification Panel or the National Organiser.