Management intensity and vegetation complexity affect web-building spiders and their prey
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- Diehl, E., Mader, V.L., Wolters, V. et al. Oecologia (2013) 173: 579. doi:10.1007/s00442-013-2634-7
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Agricultural management and vegetation complexity affect arthropod diversity and may alter trophic interactions between predators and their prey. Web-building spiders are abundant generalist predators and important natural enemies of pests. We analyzed how management intensity (tillage, cutting of the vegetation, grazing by cattle, and synthetic and organic inputs) and vegetation complexity (plant species richness, vegetation height, coverage, and density) affect rarefied richness and composition of web-building spiders and their prey with respect to prey availability and aphid predation in 12 habitats, ranging from an uncut fallow to a conventionally managed maize field. Spiders and prey from webs were collected manually and the potential prey were quantified using sticky traps. The species richness of web-building spiders and the order richness of prey increased with plant diversity and vegetation coverage. Prey order richness was lower at tilled compared to no-till sites. Hemipterans (primarily aphids) were overrepresented, while dipterans, hymenopterans, and thysanopterans were underrepresented in webs compared to sticky traps. The per spider capture efficiency for aphids was higher at tilled than at no-till sites and decreased with vegetation complexity. After accounting for local densities, 1.8 times more aphids were captured at uncut compared to cut sites. Our results emphasize the functional role of web-building spiders in aphid predation, but suggest negative effects of cutting or harvesting. We conclude that reduced management intensity and increased vegetation complexity help to conserve local invertebrate diversity, and that web-building spiders at sites under low management intensity (e.g., semi-natural habitats) contribute to aphid suppression at the landscape scale.