Signals for damage control: web decorations in Argiope keyserlingi (Araneae: Araneidae)
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Orb web spiders of the genus Argiope are permanently located at the hub of the orb web and are thus vulnerable to changing environmental conditions. Severe damage to the web by non-prey animals can have a significant impact on survival, through the cost of producing expensive silk and the loss of foraging opportunities. Thus, selection should favor web protection mechanisms, and the conspicuous web decorations, typical of Argiope spiders, may play a role. Decorated webs suffer less damage than undecorated webs, consistent with the view that they advertise the presence of the web to non-prey animals that may damage the web. However, whether spiders respond to web damage by increasing investment in web decorations has not been investigated. We subjected adult St. Andrew's Cross spider (Argiope keyserlingi) females to three levels of web damage and recorded their subsequent web-decorating behavior. Mild damage, similar to that caused by impacting prey, did not affect either web building or decorating behavior. However, spiders subjected to substantial web damage both reduced the size of subsequent webs and increased investment in web decoration size. These data are consistent with an advertising role of web decorations.