The golden orb-weaver spider features in newly reported research and provides an exciting insight into past ecosystems. Today, these animals adorn tropical rainforests, with giant females of Nephila maculate (legs spanning up to 20 cm), and small males (just a few centimetres across). However, the fossil record of the Nephilidae family is meagre. The earliest example of the genus Nephila comes from the Eocene (considered to be about 34 Ma) and the earliest example of the family Nephilidae is a male from the Cretaceous (considered to be 130 Ma). The newly reported fossil golden orb-weaver spider is a giant female with a leg span of about 15 cm.
So this particular living fossil exhibits stasis at the genus level and raises again the issue of what can be learned from the phenomenon of stasis. A previous blog expressed some frustration at Neodarwinian evolutionists who file stasis in a box that says: no environmental change, no selection pressures, no evolution. The problem with this is that so many potentially interesting questions are never asked – and the result is an impoverished science. However, there are evolutionary biologists who think differently, and it is worth considering what an alternative perspective on stasis might look like.For over a decade, Eric Davidson has been championing the concept of developmental gene regulatory networks (dGRNs) which control ontogeny of the body plan. More than most biologists, he is aware of the significance of different paradigms and how they affect the way we approach the phenomenon of stasis since the Cambrian Explosion. He introduces his latest paper in this way: …