Functionally Independent Components of Prey Capture Are Architecturally Constrained in Spider Orb Webs

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Publication Date

Fall 2007


Evolutionary conflict in trait performance under different ecological contexts is common, but may also arise from functional coupling between traits operating within the same context. Orb webs first intercept and then retain insects long enough to be attacked by spiders. Improving either function increases prey capture and they are largely determined by different aspects of web architecture. We manipulated the mesh width of orbs to investigate its effect, along with web size, on prey capture by spiders and found that they functioned independently. Probability of prey capture increased with web size but was not affected by mesh width. Conversely, spiders on narrow-meshed webs were almost three times more likely to capture energetically profitable large insects, which demand greater prey retention. Yet, the two functions are still constrained during web spinning because increasing mesh width maximizes web size and hence interception, while retention is improved by decreasing mesh width because more silk adheres to insects. The architectural coupling between prey interception and retention has probably played a key role in both the macroevolution of orb web shape and the expression of plasticity in the spinning behaviours of spiders.

Publication Title

Biology Letters





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