Abstract 1. Arthropods living in annual crops suffer mortality caused by agricultural practices. Therefore, migration from surrounding habitats is crucial to maintain populations of natural enemies of insect pests in crops. In desert agroecosystems there is a pronounced contrast between managed and unmanaged habitats, where irrigated and fertilised crops are islands of productivity in an arid matrix. This contrast could either enhance or inhibit movement of natural enemies between the landscape components.
2. The importance of the surrounding arid habitats as a source for spiders in crops was examined in the Negev desert of Israel. Spiders were sampled in both arid natural habitat and adjacent wheat fields using pitfall traps and visual searching. In addition, spiders in wheat fields were sampled throughout the winter cropping season using emergence traps at increasing distances from the field edge. Stationary and movable emergence traps were used to distinguish between residents and migrant species.
3. The spider assemblage in the wheat was dominated by three families: Linyphiidae, Theridiidae, and Gnaphosidae. Spider sampling in both natural arid habitat and adjacent wheat fields enabled four functional groups to be recognised that differed in habitat preference, movement patterns, and population dynamics. Thirty-three per cent of collected individuals were classified as crop residents whereas more than 50% were classified as migrants from the surrounding habitats. These findings suggest that the surrounding habitats influence spider assemblage composition in the fields, in spite of the marked contrast in habitat structure and productivity.
4. Spider assemblages in the wheat fields were dominated by migrant species arriving from the surrounding arid habitats. Migrant spiders inhabited the crop throughout the cropping season. The combined contribution of resident and migrant functional groups may act to prevent insect pest outbreaks in this desert agroecosystem.