Effects of extreme climatic events on small-scale spatial patterns: A 20-year study of the distribution of a desert spider

Klaus Birkhofer, Joh Henschel, Yael Lubin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Individuals of most animal species are non-randomly distributed in space. Extreme climatic events are often ignored as potential drivers of distribution patterns, and the role of such events is difficult to assess. Seothyra henscheli (Araneae, Eresidae) is a sedentary spider found in the Namib dunes in Namibia. The spider constructs a sticky-edged silk web on the sand surface, connected to a vertical, silk-lined burrow. Above-ground web structures can be damaged by strong winds or heavy rainfall, and during dispersal spiders are susceptible to environmental extremes. Locations of burrows were mapped in three field sites in 16 out of 20 years from 1987 to 2007, and these grid-based data were used to identify the relationship between spatial patterns, climatic extremes and sampling year. According to Morisita's index, individuals had an aggregated distribution in most years and field sites, and Geary's C suggests clustering up to scales of 2 m. Individuals were more aggregated in years with high maximum wind speed and low annual precipitation. Our results suggest that clustering is a temporally stable property of populations that holds even under fluctuating burrow densities. Climatic extremes, however, affect the intensity of clustering behaviour: individuals seem to be better protected in field sites with many conspecific neighbours. We suggest that burrow-site selection is driven at least partly by conspecific cuing, and this behaviour may protect populations from collapse during extreme climatic events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)651-657
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2012


  • Aggregation
  • Araneae
  • Climate
  • Conspecific cuing
  • Spatial analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of extreme climatic events on small-scale spatial patterns: A 20-year study of the distribution of a desert spider'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this