Matching Items (3)

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Population ecology and stoichiometry of the western black widow spider: from solitary desert predator to urban pest

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Human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC) influences nearly all of Earth's ecosystems through processes such as urbanization. Previous studies have found that urbanization influences biodiversity patterns, often yielding an increase in

Human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC) influences nearly all of Earth's ecosystems through processes such as urbanization. Previous studies have found that urbanization influences biodiversity patterns, often yielding an increase in the abundance of a few urban-adapted taxa at the expense of native species diversity. The western black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus, is a medically-important pest species that often forms dense urban subpopulations (i.e., infestations) relative to the low-density subpopulations found throughout undisturbed, desert habitat. Here, I employ field and laboratory studies to examine the population ecology and stoichiometry of this urban pest to increase our understanding of the mechanisms underlying its success. The population ecology of ten black widow subpopulations spread across metropolitan Phoenix, AZ was examined during the peak breeding season (June-August). This study revealed that arthropod prey abundance, female mass and population density of females showed significant spatial variation across the ten subpopulations. Additionally, prey abundance and foraging success, measured as the number of carcasses found in webs, were a strong determinant of female mass and population density within each subpopulation. To test the mechanisms that drive black widow infestations, I used ecological stoichiometry to examine the nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) composition of spiders and arthropod prey from urban habitat, desert habitat and a laboratory diet regime. These studies revealed that (1) spiders are more nutrient rich than cricket prey in the field, (2) spider subpopulations exhibit significant spatial variation in their nitrogen composition, (3) nutrient composition of urban spider subpopulations does not differ significantly from Sonoran desert subpopulations, (4) laboratory-reared spiders fed a diet of only laboratory-reared crickets are more nitrogen and phosphorus limited than field-captured spiders, and (5) cannibalism by laboratory-reared spiders alleviated phosphorus limitation, but not nitrogen limitation, when compared to field-captured spiders. This work highlights the need to examine the population ecology of species relationships, such as predator-prey dynamics, to fully understand the fecundity and population growth of urban pest species. Moreover, the integration of population ecology and stoichiometry illustrates the need to address mechanisms like nutrient limitation that may explain why urban pest populations thrive and native species diversity suffers following HIREC.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Plasticity of the red hourglass in female western black widow spiders (Latrodectus hesperus): urban ecological variation, condition-dependence, and adaptive function

Description

Urbanization provides an excellent opportunity to examine the effects of human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC) on natural ecosystems. Certain species can dominate in urban habitats at the expense of biodiversity.

Urbanization provides an excellent opportunity to examine the effects of human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC) on natural ecosystems. Certain species can dominate in urban habitats at the expense of biodiversity. Phenotypic plasticity may be the mechanism by which these 'urban exploiters' flourish in urban areas. Color displays and condition-dependent phenotypes are known to be highly plastic. However, conspicuous color displays are perplexing in that they can be costly to produce and may increase detection by enemies. The Western black widow spider () is a superabundant pest species that forms dense aggregations throughout metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Adult female display a red hourglass on their abdomen, which is speculated to function as a conspicuous warning signal to enemies. Here, I performed field studies to identify how widow morphology and hourglass color differ between urban and desert subpopulations. I also conducted laboratory experiments to examine the dietary sensitivity of hourglass coloration and to identify its functional role in the contexts of agonism, mating, and predator defense. My field data reveal significant spatial variation across urban and desert subpopulations in ecology and color. Furthermore, hourglass coloration was significantly influenced by environmental factors unique to urban habitats. Desert spiders were found to be smaller and less colorful than urban spiders. Throughout, I observed a positive correlation between body condition and hourglass size. Laboratory diet manipulations empirically confirm the condition-dependence of hourglass size. Additionally, widows with extreme body conditions exhibited condition-dependent coloration. However, hourglass obstruction and enlargement did not produce any effects on the outcome of agonistic encounters, male courtship, or predator deterrence. This work offers important insights into the effects of urbanization on the ecology and coloration of a superabundant pest species. While the function of the hourglass remains undetermined, my findings characterize the black widow's hourglass as extremely plastic. Plastic responses to novel environmental conditions can modify the targets of natural selection and subsequently influence evolutionary outcomes. Therefore, assuming a heritable component to this plasticity, the response of hourglass plasticity to the abrupt environmental changes in urban habitats may result in the rapid evolution of this phenotype.

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Date Created
  • 2014

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Color and communication in Habronattus jumping spiders: tests of sexual and ecological selection

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Differences between males and females can evolve through a variety of mechanisms, including sexual and ecological selection. Because coloration is evolutionarily labile, sexually dichromatic species are good models for understanding

Differences between males and females can evolve through a variety of mechanisms, including sexual and ecological selection. Because coloration is evolutionarily labile, sexually dichromatic species are good models for understanding the evolution of sex differences. While many jumping spiders exhibit diverse and brilliant coloration, they have been notably absent from such studies. In the genus Habronattus, females are drab and cryptic while males are brilliantly colored, displaying some of these colors to females during elaborate courtship dances. Here I test multiple hypotheses for the control and function of male color. In the field, I found that Habronattus males indiscriminately court any female they encounter (including other species), so I first examined the role that colors play in species recognition. I manipulated male colors in H. pyrrithrix and found that while they are not required for species recognition, the presence of red facial coloration improves courtship success, but only if males are courting in the sun. Because light environment affects transmission of color signals, the multi-colored displays of males may facilitate communication in variable and unpredictable environments. Because these colors can be costly to produce and maintain, they also have the potential to signal reliable information about male quality to potential female mates. I found that both red facial and green leg coloration is condition dependent in H. pyrrithrix and thus has the potential to signal quality. Yet, surprisingly, this variation in male color does not appear to be important to females. Males of many Habronattus species also exhibit conspicuous markings on the dorsal surface of their abdomens that are not present in females and are oriented away from females during courtship. In the field, I found that these markings are paired with increased leg-waving behavior in a way that resembles the pattern and behavior of wasps; this may provide protection by exploiting the aversions of predators. My data also suggest that different activity levels between the sexes have placed different selection pressures on their dorsal color patterns. Overall, these findings challenge some of the traditional ways that we think about color signaling and provide novel insights into the evolution of animal coloration.

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Date Created
  • 2012