Cannibalism, food limitation, intraspecific competition, and the regulation of spider populations

Annu Rev Entomol. 2006;51:441-65. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ento.51.110104.150947.


Cannibalism among generalist predators has implications for the dynamics of terrestrial food webs. Spiders are common, ubiquitous arthropod generalist predators in most natural and managed terrestrial ecosystems. Thus, the relationship of spider cannibalism to food limitation, competition, and population regulation has direct bearing on basic ecological theory and applications such as biological control. This review first briefly treats the different types of spider cannibalism and then focuses in more depth on evidence relating cannibalism to population dynamics and food web interactions to address the following questions: Is cannibalism in spiders a foraging strategy that helps to overcome the effects of a limited supply of calories and/or nutrients? Does cannibalism in spiders reduce competition for prey? Is cannibalism a significant density-dependent factor in spider population dynamics? Does cannibalism dampen spider-initiated trophic cascades?

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size / physiology
  • Cannibalism*
  • Competitive Behavior*
  • Ecosystem
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Food Chain
  • Food Microbiology
  • Food Supply*
  • Hunger
  • Male
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Population Control
  • Population Dynamics
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Social Behavior
  • Spiders / physiology*