Collembola as alternative prey sustaining spiders in arable ecosystems: prey detection within predators using molecular markers


N. Agustí. ‡Present address: Ecologie des populations et communautés, Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon (INA P-G), 16, rue Claude Bernard, 75231 Paris cedex 05, France. Fax: 33 144087257; E-mail:


Collembola comprise a major source of alternative prey to linyphiid spiders in arable fields, helping to sustain and retain these predators as aphid control agents within the crop. Polymerase chain reaction primers were developed for the amplification, from spider gut samples, of DNA from three of the most abundant species of Collembola in wheat crops in Europe, namely Isotoma anglicana, Lepidocyrtus cyaneus and Entomobrya multifasciata. The primers amplified fragments of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) gene and were designed following alignment of comparable sequences for a range of predator and prey species. Each of the primer pairs proved to be species-specific to a Collembola species, amplifying DNA fragments from 211 to 276 base pairs in length. Following consumption of a single collembolan, prey DNA was detectable in 100% of spiders after 24 h of digestion. We report the first use of DNA-based techniques to detect predation by arthropods on natural populations of prey in the field. All three species of Collembola were consumed by the spiders. By comparing the ratios of the Collembola species in the field with the numbers of spiders that gave positive results for each of those species, it was possible to demonstrate that the spiders were exercising prey choice. Overall, a single target species of Collembola was eaten by 48% of spiders while a further 16% of spiders contained DNA from two different species of Collembola. Preference was particularly evident for I. anglicana, the species most frequently found in spider guts yet the least numerous of the three target species in the field.