AUG 24, 2019 2:16 PM PDT

Aggressive spiders fare better after hurricanes

New research published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution details the findings of a study on Anelosimus studiosus, a species of spider which lives along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States and Mexico. Scientists from McMaster University say that the spiders are evolving because of their continuous exposure to hurricanes.

The damage that hurricanes leave in their wake can change habitats and allow room for opportunistic species to thrive, say the researchers. But exactly which species will survive and thrive is still to be determined.

Lead author Jonathan Pruitt is an evolutionary biologist and Canada 150 Chair in McMaster's Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior. He and his team looked at the female colonies of Anelosimus studiosus in order to conclude their evolutionary adaptations to extreme weather events.

Anelosimus studiosus is unique in that there are two clear inherited personality traits that colonies can take on: docile and aggressive. According to Science Daily, “The aggressiveness of a colony is determined by the speed and number of attackers that respond to prey, the tendency to cannibalize males and eggs, the vulnerability to infiltration by predatory foreign spiders, among other characteristics. Aggressive colonies, for example, are better at acquiring resources when scarce but are also more prone to infighting when deprived of food for long periods of time or when colonies become overheated.”

The researchers wanted to figure out if a colony’s aggressiveness would benefit or detriment its ability to survive in extreme weather – and, more interestingly, if exposure to extreme weather was selecting for particular spider traits. To gather their data, the researchers had to really get in the thick of it – going to hurricane sites right before and within 48 hours after the landfall of the cyclone. During the hurricane season of 2018, they took samples of 240 colonies and compared them to control sites.

As Pruitt explains, "Tropical cyclones likely impact these stressors by altering the numbers of flying prey and increasing sun exposure from a more open canopy layer. Aggressiveness is passed down through generations in these colonies, from parent to daughter, and is a major factor in their survival and ability to reproduce."

Hurricanes can greatly alter habitats and pave the way for natural selection among species. Photo: Pixabay

The researchers found that following a hurricane, colonies with more aggressive foraging responses produced more egg cases and had more spiderlings survive into early winter. Despite adjusting the data for variables such as storm size, duration, and intensity, the trend remained consistent.

"It is tremendously important to understand the environmental impacts of these 'black swan' weather events on evolution and natural selection," says Pruitt. "As sea levels rise, the incidence of tropical storms will only increase. Now more than ever we need to contend with what the ecological and evolutionary impacts of these storms will be for non-human animals.”

Sources: Nature Ecology & Evolution, Science Daily

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
OCT 09, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Scientists Upcycle Plastics to Fight Climate Change
OCT 09, 2022
Scientists Upcycle Plastics to Fight Climate Change
In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a team of researchers led by the University ...
OCT 19, 2022
Plants & Animals
Unparalleled Levels of Insects Harming Modern Day Plants
OCT 19, 2022
Unparalleled Levels of Insects Harming Modern Day Plants
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers led by the Uni ...
OCT 28, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Researchers Examine Coral Chemical Compounds on Reef Health Effects
OCT 28, 2022
Researchers Examine Coral Chemical Compounds on Reef Health Effects
In a recent study published in ISME Communications, a team of researchers led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutio ...
NOV 16, 2022
Earth & The Environment
New Details About Earth's First Mass Extinction Unveiled by Geobiologists
NOV 16, 2022
New Details About Earth's First Mass Extinction Unveiled by Geobiologists
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers led by Virgini ...
NOV 15, 2022
Earth & The Environment
The Life of Her Mind Episode 3: Dr. Kisha Supernant
NOV 15, 2022
The Life of Her Mind Episode 3: Dr. Kisha Supernant
  Dr. Kisha Supernant (Métis/Papaschase/British), Associate Professor at the University of Alberta, is a gro ...
NOV 26, 2022
Technology
Researchers Control Hydrogels with Fuel
NOV 26, 2022
Researchers Control Hydrogels with Fuel
In a recent study published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers from the Delft University of Technology in T ...
Loading Comments...