1. Cover crops and/or resident ground vegetation have been used in California vineyards to increase the number of predators and decrease the number of pestiferous herbivores. The most common resident predators in vineyards are spiders (Araneae). Several observational studies suggest that the addition of cover crops results in an increase in spider density and a decrease in insect pest densities.
2. To test experimentally the effects of cover crops and/or resident ground vegetation (hereafter collectively referred to as ground cover) on spider populations, a 3-year study was undertaken in a commercial vineyard. Large, replicated plots were established with and without ground cover during the growing season. Spider species diversity was analysed on the vines and on the ground cover.
3. On the vines, there was no significant difference in spider species richness or the total number of spiders in plots with and without ground cover. There were differences in the relative abundance of two spiders between treatments, with one species (Trachelas pacificus [Chamberlin & Ivie]) more abundant in plots with ground cover and another (Hololena nedra Chamberlin & Ivie) more common on vines in plots with no ground cover. Annual variation in spider abundance was greater than variation due to ground cover treatment.
4. On the ground cover, the spider species diversity was considerably different from that found on the vines above, suggesting that there is little movement of spiders between the ground cover and the vines. Enhancement of T. pacificus populations on vines with ground covers may be a result of prey species movement between the ground cover and the vines. Spider abundance was sparse on the bare ground.
5. The maintenance of ground cover increased spider species diversity in the vineyard as a whole (vine and ground cover). However, the relatively small changes in spider abundance on the vines indicate there are limitations in the use of ground covers for pest management with respect to generalist predators.