, Volume 100, Issue 3, pp 263-268
Date: 25 Jan 2013

Optimal foraging, not biogenetic law, predicts spider orb web allometry

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The biogenetic law posits that the ontogeny of an organism recapitulates the pattern of evolutionary changes. Morphological evidence has offered some support for, but also considerable evidence against, the hypothesis. However, biogenetic law in behavior remains underexplored. As physical manifestation of behavior, spider webs offer an interesting model for the study of ontogenetic behavioral changes. In orb-weaving spiders, web symmetry often gets distorted through ontogeny, and these changes have been interpreted to reflect the biogenetic law. Here, we test the biogenetic law hypothesis against the alternative, the optimal foraging hypothesis, by studying the allometry in Leucauge venusta orb webs. These webs range in inclination from vertical through tilted to horizontal; biogenetic law predicts that allometry relates to ontogenetic stage, whereas optimal foraging predicts that allometry relates to gravity. Specifically, pronounced asymmetry should only be seen in vertical webs under optimal foraging theory. We show that, through ontogeny, vertical webs in L. venusta become more asymmetrical in contrast to tilted and horizontal webs. Biogenetic law thus cannot explain L. venusta web allometry, but our results instead support optimization of foraging area in response to spider size.

Communicated by: Sven Thatje