Northern range expansion of European populations of the wasp spider Argiope bruennichi is associated with global warming–correlated genetic admixture and population-specific temperature adaptations


Correspondence: Henrik Krehenwinkel, Fax: +49 4522 763-281; E-mail:


Poleward range expansions are observed for an increasing number of species, which may be an effect of global warming during the past decades. However, it is still not clear in how far these expansions reflect simple geographical shifts of species ranges, or whether new genetic adaptations play a role as well. Here, we analyse the expansion of the wasp spider Argiope bruennichi into Northern Europe during the last century. We have used a range-wide sampling of contemporary populations and historical specimens from museums to trace the phylogeography and genetic changes associated with the range shift. Based on the analysis of mitochondrial, microsatellite and SNP markers, we observe a higher level of genetic diversity in the expanding populations, apparently due to admixture of formerly isolated lineages. Using reciprocal transplant experiments for testing overwintering tolerance, as well as temperature preference and tolerance tests in the laboratory, we find that the invading spiders have possibly shifted their temperature niche. This may be a key adaptation for survival in Northern latitudes. The museum samples allow a reconstruction of the invasion's genetic history. A first, small-scale range shift started around 1930, in parallel with the onset of global warming. A more massive invasion of Northern Europe associated with genetic admixture and morphological changes occurred in later decades. We suggest that the latter range expansion into far Northern latitudes may be a consequence of the admixture that provided the genetic material for adaptations to new environmental regimes. Hence, global warming could have facilitated the initial admixture of populations and this resulted in genetic lineages with new habitat preferences.