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Prey selection by linyphiid spiders: molecular tracking of the effects of alternative prey on rates of aphid consumption in the field


and present address: Dr James D. Harwood, Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky, S-225 Agricultural Science Center North, Lexington, KY 40546–0091, USA. Fax: 001 859 323 1120; E-mail:


A molecular approach, using aphid-specific monoclonal antibodies, was used to test the hypothesis that alternative prey can affect predation on aphids by linyphiid spiders. These spiders locate their webs in cereal crops within microsites where prey density is high. Previous work demonstrated that of two subfamilies of Linyphiidae, one, the Linyphiinae, is web-dependent and makes its webs at sites where they were more likely to intercept flying insects plus those (principally aphids) falling from the crop above. The other, the Erigoninae, is less web-dependent, making its webs at ground level at sites with higher densities of ground-living detritivores, especially Collembola. The guts of the spiders were analysed to detect aphid proteins using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Female spiders were consuming more aphid than males of both subfamilies and female Linyphiinae were, as predicted, eating more aphid than female Erigoninae. Rates of predation on aphids by Linyphiinae were related to aphid density and were not affected by the availability of alternative prey. However, predation by the Erigoninae on aphids was significantly affected by Collembola density. Itinerant Linyphiinae, caught away from their webs, contained the same concentration of aphid in their guts as web-owners. However, nonweb-owning Erigoninae, living away from Collembola aggregations at web-sites, contained significantly higher concentrations of aphid. For both subfamilies there was evidence of a disproportionate increase in predation on aphids once Collembola populations had declined. It was concluded that nonaphid prey, by helping to maintain spiders in the field, can significantly affect predation on aphids.