Gauging megadiversity with optimized and standardized sampling protocols: a case for tropical forest spiders

Characterizing and monitoring biodiversity and assessing its drivers require accurate and comparable data on species assemblages, which, in turn, should rely on efficient and standardized field collection. Unfortunately, protocols that follow such criteria remain scarce and it is unclear whether they can be applied to megadiverse communities, whose study can be particularly challenging. Here, we develop and evaluate the first optimized and standardized sampling protocol for megadiverse communities, using tropical forest spiders as a model taxon. We designed the protocol COBRA- TF (Conservation Oriented Biodiversity Rapid Assessment for Tropical Forests) using a large dataset of semiquantita-tive field data from different continents. This protocol combines samples of different collecting methods to obtain as many species as possible with minimum effort (optimized) and widest applicability and comparability (standardized). We ran sampling simulations to assess the efficiency of COBRA- TF (optimized, non- site- specific) and its reliability for es-timating taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity, and community structure by comparing it with (1) commonly used expert- based ad hoc protocols (nonoptimized, site- specific) and (2) optimal protocols (optimized, site- specific). We then tested the perfor-mance and feasibility of COBRA- TF in the field. COBRA- TF yielded similar results as ad hoc protocols for species (observed and estimated) and family richness, phylogenetic and functional diversity, and species abundance distribution. Optimal protocols detected more species than COBRA- TF. Data from the field test showed high sampling complete-ness and yielded low numbers of singletons and doubletons. Optimized and standardized protocols can be as effective in sampling and studying megadiverse communities as tra-ditional sampling, while allowing data comparison. Although our target taxa are spiders, COBRA- TF can be modified to apply to any highly diverse taxon and habitat as long as multiple collecting techniques exist and the unit effort per sample is comparable. Protocols such as COBRA- TF facilitate studying megadiverse communities and therefore may become essential tools for monitoring community changes in space and time, assess-ing the effects of disturbances and selecting conservation areas.