1. Aggregative behaviour in fungivorous soil arthropods is widespread; its adaptive value, however, is largely unknown. In this study, the spatial foraging behaviour of a collembolan, Folsomia candida, and the fitness consequences of feeding at different densities on the filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans were investigated. The effect of two fungal strains were compared; a wild-type (wt) and a transgenic strain that lacks the ability to express the global secondary metabolite regulator LaeA (ΔlaeA).
2. In laboratory foraging tests, F. candida exhibited aggregated distributions of individuals across four distinct fungal colonies that were arranged in short distances from each other. By quantifying the extent of the feeding damage at each single colony, a more evenly distributed feeding activity was found among wt colonies than among chemical-deficient colonies.
3. In a fitness experiment, where collembolans at different densities were restricted to feed on single A. nidulans colonies, mean growth rate of F. candida was positively related to density on the wt A. nidulans strain, but negatively related to density on the chemical-deficient strain.
4. Depending on the fungus' ability to express secondary chemicals and availability of fungal food sources, F. candida may employ different foraging strategies: (i) avoidance of prolonged feeding on single colonies in a rich habitat (travel costs low), and (ii) intensified group feeding on single colonies in a resource-limited habitat (travel costs high). It was hypothesised that flexibility in fungivore foraging behaviour (clumping vs. spreading feeding activity) is adaptive because it allows avoidance/overcoming induced fungal chemical defence.