Intraspecific trait variants determine the nature of interspecific interactions in a habitat-forming species

Ecology. 2011 Oct;92(10):1902-8. doi: 10.1890/11-0701.1.


Although the study of ecological interactions often takes into account functional variation between species, intraspecific variation is commonly ignored. Here, we investigate the importance of an intraspecific polymorphism in shaping interspecific interactions in a habitat-building species. Colonies of the social spider Anelosimus studiosus provide habitat for dozens of arthropod species, and colony members exhibit markedly polymorphic behavioral temperaments (BT): "aggressive" or "docile." We manipulated the phenotypic compositions of colonies (100% aggressive, 50% aggressive and 50% docile, 100% docile) and measured the nature and magnitude of interactions between A. studiosus and two heterospecific web associates, Larinioides cornutus and Agelenopsis emertoni. We found that BT composition significantly affected the outcome of interspecific interactions, changing the relationship between A. studiosus and its web associates from an ammensalism (where A. studiosus experiences reduced fecundity and survival) to a commensalism or mutualism. Our study successfully illustrates the potential of BTs to impact whole community dynamics, and conversely, for community structure to influence the maintenance of BTs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Body Weight
  • Ecosystem*
  • Female
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Species Specificity
  • Spiders / physiology*