Susan Kennedy

Susan Kennedy

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Graduate Student

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Curriculum vitae | SKennedy_CV_Mar2020
Research areas | niche ecology / rapid evolution / molecular ecology / arachnology

Research Interests

I’m interested in the behavioral and ecological changes that populations undergo during speciation. I work on the Hawaiian Tetragnatha (long-jawed orb-weaving) spiders, which make up an adaptive radiation of more than fifty species with a breathtaking diversity of morphologies and behaviors. The aim of my dissertation is to understand the ways that these spiders’ ecological niches have changed over the course of their evolution. Using web-building behavior, stable isotope signatures, molecular gut content analysis, and gut microbiome data, I address the question: What role do dietary shifts play in the rapid diversification of lineages?

Aside from my research focus, I am an avid spider enthusiast with a broad interest in the natural history and biodiversity of these animals. From trap-building to net-casting to cursorial hunting, from the fascinating and promising biomaterial qualities of silk to a myriad of complex mating behaviors, spiders have an incredible amount to tell us about the world.

Photographing a spider web in the field.


Holding a “puffer,” a simple yet ingenious instrument used to improve the visibility of spider webs. When you squeeze the rubber bulb, the puffer releases a cloud of cornstarch, which sticks to a spider’s silk and turns it bright white. This makes it much easier to get high-quality photos of webs, especially at night.


The orb web of a Hawaiian Tetragnatha spider belonging to a species that hasn’t been described yet. As much as we have learned about these fascinating spiders, there is still a lot to discover!



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