Competition for resources is a major organizing principle in communities of organisms that share similar ecological niches. Niche separation by means of exploitation or interference competition was investigated in two taxa of crop-inhabiting spiders that overlap in microhabitat use and have similar web design. Competition for prey and web sites was tested in microcosm experiments with the most common species that build sheet-webs: Enoplognatha gemina (Theridiidae) and Alioranus pastoralis (Linyphiidae). A field survey over the crop season provided data on spatial and temporal dispersion of Enoplognatha spp. (Theridiidae) and linyphiid spiders (Linyphiidae) and on availability of prey over the season. In the microcosm experiments, both taxa took springtails as prey, but only Enoplognatha fed on aphids. Differences in diet, however, could not be attributed to either exploitative or interference competition. Spatial separation of websites was attained by vertical displacement of webs in the vegetation (Enoplognatha) and by avoidance of patches occupied by conspecific or heterospecific individuals (linyphiids). In the field, densities of linyphiids and Enoplognatha were correlated negatively and webs were over-dispersed relative to a random distribution. Both taxa colonized the field at the start of the season; linyphiids colonized as adults, quickly reproduced, and had a second adult peak; Enoplognatha matured in the middle of the season and their numbers remained fairly constant over the season. The combined experimental manipulations and field data suggest that niche separation occurs at different scales. The hypothesis of competition for websites was partially supported, while prey preference (or tolerance) and temporal differences in life history stages also may explain the negative correlations between densities of the two taxa.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics