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Ecology. 2007 Aug;88(8):2015-23.

Multiple techniques confirm elevational differences in insect size that may influence spider sociality.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Social and subsocial spiders of the genus Anelosimus exhibit an altitudinal pattern in their geographic distribution at tropical latitudes in the Americas. Social species, which capture prey cooperatively, occur primarily in the lowland rain forest and are absent from higher elevations, whereas subsocial species are common at higher elevations but absent from the lowland rain forest. Previous studies have suggested that differences in the size of potential insect prey along altitudinal gradients may explain this pattern as insects were found to be, on average, larger in lowland rain forests than at higher elevations. These studies, however, may have under-sampled the insect size composition of each habitat because only one sampling technique was used. Using a number of collection methods we sampled the insect size composition in the environments of social and subsocial spiders in this genus. We found that the average insect size in lowland rain forest habitats was indeed larger than at high-elevation cloud forests in eastern Ecuador. We also found that, even though the various techniques differed in the size of the insects they captured (visual searching and blacklighting yielding larger insects than beating, sweeping, or malaise trapping), they all caught, on average, larger insects in the lowlands. Overall, spider colonies in the lowlands caught larger prey than did spider colonies at higher elevations, paralleling differences in insect size distribution obtained by the various techniques in their respective environments.

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