Foraging ecology and niche partitioning in orb-weaving spiders

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Foraging patterns were determined for three orbweaving spiders in several geographical locations varying in percent cover by herbaceous vegetation. Argiope trifasciata was the most common species in early successional habitats, while both Argiope aurantia and Araneus trifolium were more common in wetter, more herbaceous sites. Discriminant analysis revealed that web height selected for webs and body size were the variables that explained most of the variation among populations in foraging patterns. Argiope aurantia forages lowest in vegetation, A. trifasciata at intermediate heights, and A. trifolium near the top of the vegetation. The body size sequence is reversed. Web radius, spider size, and web height appear to explain much of the variation in abundance and size of prey in webs. Species foraging higher in the vegetation take more winged prey, while larger species foraging lower in the vegetation tend to take larger, jumping prey like acridids. Comparison of prey in webs with field estimates of potential prey suggests that orbweavers select large insect prey. Inferential evidence indicates that interspecific competition may be responsible for the divergence in foraging patterns among species reported here. However, field manipulative experiments have not yet indicated that competition among orb-weavers is severe. © 1981 Springer-Verlag.

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