Belgian arachnology has a long standing tradition, both by professionals, a.o. employed at Ghent University, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Institute of Nature and Forest Research, Royal Museum of Central Africa, and amateurs whose intensive collaboration resulted in the foundation of the Belgian Arachnological Society (ARABEL) in 1976. One of the most productive outcomes of this collaboration was the integration of knowledge about spider ecology, systematics and faunistics. The exchange of expertise happened, besides the meetings, by means of the Newsletter of the Belgian Arachnological Society.
Quite unique among many ‘less known’ invertebrate groups, this newsletter made extensive amounts of data to become available to researchers in arachnology which enabled the use of spiders for many different purposes. Some of the first results were the publication of distribution maps of spiders for Belgium, for which Belgium was among the leaders in Europe. This knowledge moreover led to the insight that spiders have a particularly additive value in their use as bioindicators in biodiversity studies (see Maelfait et al. 1989, Maelfait and Hendrickx 1998, Maelfait et al. 2004). Some of the examples include their use in evaluating the effects of management and habitat deterioration of heathlands (Maelfait et al. 1990), forests (De Bakker et al. 2000), marshes (Decleer 1988), effects of habitat isolation and fragmentation (Gurdebeke et al. 2003, Bonte et al. 2003, Hendrickx et al. subm), environmental pollution (Hendrickx et al. 2004), agricultural management (Alderweireldt ), etc… The sensitivity of spiders to changes in habitat quality led to the development of a Red List of the Spiders of Flanders (Maelfait et al. 1998) and their incorporation in large scale monitoring schemes for evaluating the effects of management in nature reserves has recently been suggested (Demeulenaere et al. 2002). Along with their use as bioindicators, intensive sampling campaigns were conducted for evaluating arthropod biodiversity in natural- and semi-natural habitats during the last decade, which led to an almost exponential growth of data.
In an attempt to centralize this growing amount of information on Belgian spider faunistics and ecology, a Database of the Belgian Arachnofauna was developed in which data are stored in a digital format. The main aims of this database are easy access to available raw data of each spider species in Belgium, summarizing the geographic distribution of the species on automatically updated distribution maps, displaying integrated information about the ecology of each species by means of bar charts of the species distribution among habitat categories in standardized sampling schemes, obtaining species lists of a particular site and easy access to publication lists where data about the species can be found.
The aim of this project is to incorporate the species data into the database together with distributional, environmental and literature data about the sampling locations. In practice, this includes (i) merging the digital available sample data into the database, (ii) digitization of published and unpublished species data (iii) updating literature references and linking them to the data of the
sampling locations (iv) translating the habitat of the sampling locations into European Nature Information System habitat codes and (v) building a list of all sites where available data come from such that duplicates can be removed and quality control on sites can be performed.
ARABEL, arachnofauna, Arachnida, arachnids, arachnology, spiders, collections, digitization call 2006, Belgium