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Keywords:

  • Polyphagy;
  • predator;
  • prey;
  • prey specificity;
  • trophic niche

Stenophagy (narrow diet breadth) represents an extreme of trophic specialization in carnivores, but little is known about the forces driving its evolution. We used spiders, the most diversified group of terrestrial predators, to investigate whether stenophagy (1) promoted diversification; (2) was phylogenetically conserved and evolutionarily derived state; and (3) was determined either by geographical distribution and foraging guild. We used published data on the prey of almost 600 species. Six categories of stenophagy were found: myrmecophagy, araneophagy, lepidopterophagy, termitophagy, dipterophagy, and crustaceophagy. We found that the species diversity of euryphagous genera and families was similar to stenophagous genera and families. At the family level, stenophagy evolved repeatedly and independently. Within families, the basal condition was oligophagy or euryphagy. Most types of stenophagy were clearly derived: myrmecophagy in Zodariidae; lepidopterophagy in Araneidae; dipterophagy in Theridiidae. In contrast, araneophagy was confined to basal and intermediate lineages, suggesting its ancestral condition. The diet breadth of species from the tropics and subtropics was less diverse than species from the temperate zone. Diet breadth was lower in cursorial spiders compared to web-building species. Thus, the evolution of stenophagy in spiders appears to be complex and governed by phylogeny as well as by ecological determinants.