Lorenzo Prendini, Ph.D.

Lorenzo Prendini, head of the Scorpion Systematics Research Group, is Associate Curator of Arachnids and Myriapods in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the AMNH.

Associate Curator (Arachnids & Myriapods)
Division of Invertebrate Zoology
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192

Tel: +1-212-769-5843
Fax: +1-212-769-5277
Email: lorenzo@amnh.org

Curriculum Vitae (PDF)

Lorenzo Prendini

Research Projects

Scorpion Phylogeny and Higher Classification: The framework for my current research is a global phylogeny of the Order Scorpiones (collaborative project with Ward Wheeler, Erich Volschenk and Camilo Mattoni), using exemplar species as terminal taxa, and morphological data, together with DNA sequence data, as characters. When a rigorous phylogeny of the order has been established, it will be possible to revise the presently contentious familial classification. It will also be possible to investigate biogeographical patterns at the continental and intracontinental levels and to test adaptational hypotheses, e.g. concerning the evolution of scorpion venom, in a phylogenetic context. Approximately 2,000 tissue samples and associated vouchers, many already sequenced for six nuclear and mitochondrial gene loci, have been acquired for this project. This collection was developed through fieldwork and donations from colleagues, and is steadily being deposited in the Ambrose Monell Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research of the AMNH. Fieldwork for the project has thus far been conducted in Australia, Africa (Benin, Morocco, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland), the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Trinidad & Tobago), Madagascar, Mexico, central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan), South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, French Guiana, Peru), and the U.S.A. and has been funded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the Skye Foundation and Charitable Trust, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.

Revisionary Systematics: Besides investigating phylogenetic relationships among the major lineages of scorpions, I have specific interests in revisionary systematics, particularly of the North American and Afrotropical scorpion faunas. I am PI on the NSF BIO-DEB grant ‘REVSYS: Revisionary Systematics of the North American Scorpion Family Vaejovidae’ the aim of which is to revise the systematics of the endemic, and highly speciose North American scorpion family Vaejovidae. This project involves four specialists and a Mexican Ph.D. student. Fourteen expeditions in México and the southwestern U.S.A. will be undertaken during the four years of this grant. I am also conducting a world revision and biogeographical analysis of the Gondwana families Bothriuridae (with Camilo Mattoni, Jose Ochoa and Andres Ojanguren), Liochelidae (with Lionel Monod) and Scorpionidae, comprising several paraphyletic genera. I intend to eventually revise all the scorpion genera occurring in subSaharan Africa. Taxonomic revisions and phylogentic analyses of the following genera are already published or in preparation: Lisposoma (Bothriuridae); Parabuthus, Pseudolychas and Uroplectes (Buthidae); Cheloctonus, Hadogenes and Opisthacanthus (Liochelidae); Opistophthalmus (Scorpionidae).

Adaptational and Biogeographical Hypotheses: Phylogenetic analysis is a precursor for testing adaptational and biogeographical hypotheses involving scorpions. My work on southern African scorpions is testing hypotheses about adaptation to substrata and sexual dimorphism, along with vicariance biogeographical hypotheses concerning the development of sand systems and river drainage. Such hypotheses can be more rigorously tested once other southern African scorpion genera have been revised, and phylogenetic analyses of their species relationships conducted.

Distribution and Conservation: An atlas of southern African scorpions, based on material contained in all world collections and new material collected during ongoing expeditions, is another of my goals. When the distributions of southern African scorpions have been accurately mapped, an assessment of their conservation status can be undertaken. Many range-restricted scorpions are on the verge of extinction due to current land-use practices in southern Africa.

Minor Arachnid Orders: I am developing a new research program into the systematics of other minor arachnid orders, notably Amblypygi, Uropygi, Schizomida, and Solifugae, all of which are very poorly understood. I am Co-PI on the NSF-BIO-DEB funded grant ‘Assembling the Tree of Life: Phylogeny of Spiders’, responsible for the collection and analysis of data for the outgroup taxa: Amblypygi, Uropygi, Schizomida, and Palpigradi. I am also Co-PI on another NSF-BIO-DEB funded grant, the ‘Global Survey and Inventory of Solifugae’. I am particularly interested in taxonomic revisions and phylogenetic analyses of the southern African Solifugae, which comprise nearly one quarter of the world solifuge diversity. Since patterns of solifuge distribution in southern Africa closely mirror those of the scorpions, research into the systematics of southern African solifuges will facilitate the study of congruent biogeographic patterns in the subcontinent, e.g. the origins and relationships of the Namib and Kalahari sand systems.

Organisms, Diversity, and Evolution 2005 cover

Insect-Plant Associations: Besides arachnids, I have specific interests in the evolution of insect-plant associations, and have examined parallel cladogenesis between cephaleline leaf-hoppers (Cicadellidae) and their hostplant Restionaceae. I am continuing this work, keeping abreast of recent developments in the analysis of host-parasite phylogenies.

Theory and Practice of Systematics: Although my research is, and will continue to be, empirically focused, empirical research is no better than the theory on which it is based. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rapidly expanding field of systematics. My phylogenetic research is grounded in cladistic theory, itself based on the Popperian philosophy of falsification. I advocate parsimony and simultaneous analysis in cladistic analysis, and diagnostic criteria for species delimitation. My research keeps pace with current methodology and philosophy. For example, I use direct optimization for simultaneous alignment and analysis of DNA sequences, new algorithms (implemented in TNT and POY) for rapid parsimony analysis, and explore the parameter space through sensitivity analysis and differential character weighting. I refined criteria for using the exemplar approach in analyses of higher phylogeny, especially as pertains to the integration of molecular and morphological data in simultaneous analysis. I am developing methods for coding sexually dimorphic and metameric characters, including the use of step matrices to allow evaluation of costs for alternative hypotheses of transformation among these complex morphological characters. My revisionary studies incorporate morphological and molecular data, and are testing the efficacy of ‘DNA barcodes’ as a method for species identification, when compared with traditional sources of data; research funded by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.