Substrate Availability May Be More Important than Aquatic Insect Abundance in the Distribution of Riparian Orb-web Spiders in the Tropics

Authors

  • Eric K. W. Chan,

    1. Division of Ecology & Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong SAR, China
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  • Yixin Zhang,

    1. Department of Biology, Texas State University, 601 University Drive, San Marcos, Texas, U.S.A.
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  • David Dudgeon

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Ecology & Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong SAR, China
      Corresponding author; e-mail: ddudgeon@hkucc.hku.hk
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Corresponding author; e-mail: ddudgeon@hkucc.hku.hk

ABSTRACT

Spiders that are abundant along streams may depend on energy subsidies across land–water ecotones, but the effects of season and habitat structure on this trophic linkage remain poorly understood in the tropics. We carried out surveys and a manipulative experiment to investigate the effects of season and substrate availability on the distribution of riparian orb-web spiders in Hong Kong, southern China. In the surveys, spider abundance, prey, substrate use, and web orientation were recorded. The experiment involved installation of in-stream artificial substrates (ropes and bamboo poles) to increase substrate availability for web attachment. We found no seasonal difference in web abundance, but seasonal differences were observed for the prey on webs: aquatic insects (mostly Ephemeroptera and chironomid midges) contributed 69 percent of total prey collected during the wet season, but only 38 percent during the dry season. Most webs (50–80%) were < 0.5 m above the water and 45–51 percent of them tended to be orientated horizontally to the water surface and supported by overhanging vegetation and boulders. The addition of artificial substrates resulted in a 23–34 percent increase in the number of webs at the four treatment sites compared to controls, indicating that availability of web-building substrates is a critical determinant of the spider distribution. Our results suggest that riparian zones are potential ‘hotspots' of food availability for spiders, and that the aquatic insect subsidy allows this habitat to support increased densities of spiders when the constraint of substrate availability is relaxed.

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