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Persistence and survival of the spider Nephila plumipes in cities: do increased prey resources drive the success of an urban exploiter?


Species that successfully inhabit urban ecosystems are rare, and urbanisation often drives localised extinctions of native species. Nonetheless, some species take advantage of the novel conditions available in cities and increase in abundance. Trends in the abundance and distribution of species in urban areas have received much attention, but the precise elements of urban ecosystems that affect the survival of urban-dwelling species are largely unknown. Animals that successfully exploit urban environments may do so because of increases in the availability of resources or habitats. Here we assess the effects of anthropogenic landscapes and prey abundance on the persistence of an orb-weaving spider, Nephila plumipes. We assessed spider persistence for six months in situ along an urban gradient in Sydney. We then transplanted spiders from a common garden into sites along the gradient, monitored their persistence in the new environment and measured a suite of environmental variables at local and landscape scales. The abundance of prey was closely linked with spider persistence, in both the survey and the transplant experiment, and was positively associated with anthropogenic habitats. The surveyed spiders survived longer when located closer to the coast and transplanted spiders persisted longer in smaller sites with more impervious surfaces and reduced vegetation cover. Our study shows that urbanisation has a strong effect on potential prey abundance and can lead to increased persistence of N. plumipes, demonstrating the broad impacts that habitat disturbance can have on the life history and trophic interactions of city-dwelling animals.

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We would like to thank H. Lydecker, M. Erickson, J. Lowe and P. Lowe for their help in the field. This work was supported by a student research grant from the Ecological Society of Australia. The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service granted permission for the fieldwork in National Parks.

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Correspondence to E. C. Lowe.

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Supplementary Fig. 1

Map of sites used in the survey and transplant experiment. Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (PDF 152 kb)

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Lowe, E.C., Wilder, S.M. & Hochuli, D.F. Persistence and survival of the spider Nephila plumipes in cities: do increased prey resources drive the success of an urban exploiter?. Urban Ecosyst 19, 705–720 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-015-0518-9

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  • Urbanisation
  • Microhabitat
  • Survival
  • Prey abundance
  • Resources
  • Urban exploiter