Importance of habitat structure to the arthropod food-web in Douglas-fir canopies


  • Juraj Halaj,

  • Darrell W. Ross,

  • Andrew R. Moldenke

J. Halaj and A. R. Moldenke, Dept of Entomology, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, OR 97331, USA (present address of JH: Dept of Entomology, Univ. of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40546, USA []). – D. W. Ross, Dept of Forest Science, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.


This study tested the hypothesis that habitat structure dictates the distribution and community composition of arboreal arthropods. A diverse arthropod assemblage of Douglas-fir canopies, which included Araneae, Psocoptera, Collembola and Homoptera, was chosen as a model system. Habitat structural diversity, defined as needle density and branching complexity of Douglas-fir branches, was manipulated in a four-month experiment by needle removal, thinning and tying of branches. Abundance of canopy spiders declined significantly following needle density reduction and branch thinning, branch tying significantly increased spider abundance. Distinct habitat utilization patterns were found among individual spider guilds. Orb weavers (Araneidae) dominated spider assemblages in structurally simple habitats, whereas tied branches were colonized primarily by sheet-web weavers (Linyphiidae) and nocturnal hunting spiders (Anyphaenidae and Clubionidae). Spider species richness and average body size of several spider species increased in structurally more complex habitats. Arboreal spiders appeared to be limited by strong bottom-up effects in the form of habitat quality and, to a lesser degree, prey availability. Habitat manipulations did not affect densities or biomass of flying arthropod colonists in the branch vicinity. Needle removal and branch thinning led to a significant decline in the abundance of Psocoptera and Collembola. Tying of branches resulted in an eight-fold increase in Collembola numbers, organisms most sensitive to habitat alterations. Canopy habitat structure modified vertical dispersal of Collembola from forest litter, which may have significant implications for arboreal consumers. Our results lend strong support to the importance of habitat structural diversity in explaining general patterns of arthropod abundance and diversity on plants.