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Open Access Research

Habitat productivity constrains the distribution of social spiders across continents – case study of the genus Stegodyphus

Marija Majer*, Jens-Christian Svenning and Trine Bilde

Author Affiliations

Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Ny Munkegade 116, Aarhus-C, 8000, Denmark

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Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:9  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-10-9

Published: 23 February 2013

Abstract

Introduction

Sociality has evolved independently multiple times across the spider phylogeny, and despite wide taxonomic and geographical breadth the social species are characterized by a common geographical constrain to tropical and subtropical areas. Here we investigate the environmental factors that drive macro-ecological patterns in social and solitary species in a genus that shows a Mediterranean–Afro-Oriental distribution (Stegodyphus). Both selected drivers (productivity and seasonality) may affect the abundance of potential prey insects, but seasonality may further directly affect survival due to mortality caused by extreme climatic events. Based on a comprehensive dataset including information about the distribution of three independently derived social species and 13 solitary congeners we tested the hypotheses that the distribution of social Stegodyphus species relative to solitary congeners is: (1) restricted to habitats of high vegetation productivity and (2) constrained to areas with a stable climate (low precipitation seasonality).

Results

Using spatial logistic regression modelling and information-theoretic model selection, we show that social species occur at higher vegetation productivity than solitary, while precipitation seasonality received limited support as a predictor of social spider occurrence. An analysis of insect biomass data across the Stegodyphus distribution range confirmed that vegetation productivity is positively correlated to potential insect prey biomass.

Conclusions

Habitat productivity constrains the distribution of social spiders across continents compared to their solitary congeners, with group-living in spiders being restricted to areas with relatively high vegetation productivity and insect prey biomass. As known for other taxa, permanent sociality likely evolves in response to high predation pressure and imposes within-group competition for resources. Our results suggest that group living is contingent upon productive environmental conditions where elevated prey abundance meet the increased demand for food of social groups.

Keywords:
Macroecology; Social spiders; Group living; Habitat productivity; Prey availability; Insect biomass