- 1Aquatic insects emerging from streams can provide an important energy subsidy to recipient consumers such as riparian web-building spiders. This subsidy has been hypothesized to be of little importance where the primary productivity of the recipient habitat exceeds that of the donor habitat.
- 2To test this hypothesis, we manipulated emerging stream insect abundance in a productive riparian rainforest in a replicated design using greenhouse-type exclosures, contrasted with unmanipulated stream reaches (four exclosures on two streams).
- 3Experimental exclosures resulted in a 62·9% decrease in aquatic insect abundance in exclusion reaches compared with control reaches. The overall density of riparian spiders was significantly positively correlated with aquatic insect abundances. Horizontal orb weavers (Tetragnathidae) showed a strong response to aquatic insect reduction – abundance at exclosure sites was 57% lower than at control sites. Several spider families that have not been associated with tracking aquatic insect subsidies also showed significantly decreased abundance when aquatic insects were reduced.
- 4This result is contrary to predictions of weak subsidy effects where recipient net primary productivity is high. These results suggest that predicting the importance of resource subsidies for food webs requires a focus on the relative abundance of subsidy materials in recipient and donor habitats and not simply on the total flux of energy between systems.