Burns Arthropod Evolution (BAE) Lab

The evolutionary biology of sex and sexual conflict


Leiobunum vittatum at Monticello, VA

Our lab studies the evolutionary and ecological mechanisms that contribute to sexual conflict in animal mating systems.

Another non-spider arachnid, the whipscorpion Mastigoproctus giganteus

We are interested in how demography, environmental factors, and evolutionary selective pressures influence reproductive morphology, genitalic function, mating behaviors, and holistic mating systems, especially in the leiobunine opilionids — a.k.a. harvesters, harvestpeople or “daddy-longlegs.”

We combine macroevolutionary and population-level approaches to understanding the biodiversity of arthropods, incorporating next-generation genomic sequencing, functional morphology, bioinformatics, and cytological methods into our toolkits. Current projects are focused on species groups in the United States and Japan with intriguing reproductive traits: parthenogenesis, sex ratio bias, reproductive armaments, and potential reproductive endosymbionts.

We also collaborate with lab friend Dr. Sarah Stellwagen (UNCC) on a study of non-Newtonian prey capture biomaterials, such as spider glue.

A true spider, Argiope aurantia

About harvestfolk

Harvesters or “daddy-longlegs” belong to the ancient arachnid order Opiliones, which includes spiders, scorpions, mites and ticks. Opiliones is the third-most speciose order of Arachnida (~6,600 described species) behind mites and spiders.

The most dangerous spider in the world?

Although harvesters are often mistaken for spiders, they are very different! Harvesters (Opiliones) and spiders (Araneae) form separate branches in the arachnid tree of life. Harvesters do not have fangs, nor do they make venom or silk!