Beyond polyphagy and opportunism: natural prey of hunting spiders in the canopy of apple trees

PeerJ. 2020 Jun 19;8:e9334. doi: 10.7717/peerj.9334. eCollection 2020.


Spiders (Araneae) form abundant and diverse assemblages in agroecosystems such as fruit orchards, and thus might have an important role as natural enemies of orchard pests. Although spiders are polyphagous and opportunistic predators in general, limited information exists on their natural prey at both species and community levels. Thus, the aim of this study was to assess the natural prey (realized trophic niche) of arboreal hunting spiders, their role in trophic webs and their biological control potential with direct observation of predation events in apple orchards. Hunting spiders with prey in their chelicerae were collected in the canopy of apple trees in organic apple orchards in Hungary during the growing seasons between 2013 and 2019 and both spiders and their prey were identified and measured. Among others, the composition of the actual (captured by spiders) and the potential (available in the canopy) prey was compared, trophic niche and food web metrics were calculated, and some morphological, dimensional data of the spider-prey pairs were analyzed. Species-specific differences in prey composition or pest control ability were also discussed. By analyzing a total of 878 prey items captured by spiders, we concluded that arboreal hunting spiders forage selectively and consume a large number of apple pests; however, spiders' beneficial effects are greatly reduced by their high levels of intraguild predation and by a propensity to switch from pests to alternative prey. In this study, arboreal hunting spiders showed negative selectivity for pests, no selectivity for natural enemies and positive selectivity for neutral species. In the trophic web, the dominant hunting spider taxa/groups (Carrhotus xanthogramma, Philodromus cespitum, Clubiona spp., Ebrechtella tricuspidata, Xysticus spp. and 'Other salticids') exhibit different levels of predation on different prey groups and the trophic web's structure changes depending on the time of year. Hunting spiders show a high functional redundancy in their predation, but contrary to their polyphagous nature, the examined spider taxa showed differences in their natural diet, exhibited a certain degree of prey specialization and selected prey by size and taxonomic identity. Guilds (such as stalkers, ambushers and foliage runners) did not consistently predict either prey composition or predation selectivity of arboreal hunting spider species. From the economic standpoint, Ph. cespitum and Clubiona spp. were found to be the most effective natural enemies of apple pests, especially of aphids. Finally, the trophic niche width of C. xanthogramma and Ph. cespitum increased during ontogeny, resulting in a shift in their predation. These results demonstrate how specific generalist predators can differ from each other in aspects of their predation ecology even within a relatively narrow taxonomic group.

Keywords: Araneae; Beneficial arthropods; Biocontrol potential; Carrhotus xanthogramma; Food web; Intraguild predation; Natural diet; Ontogenetic shift; Philodromus cespitum; Trophic niche.

Grant support

This study was supported by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office of Hungary (K112743) and by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology within the framework of the Higher Education Institutional Excellence Program (NKFIH-1159-6/2019) in the scope of plant breeding and plant protection researches of Szent István University. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.