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Exploring the effects of individual traits and within-colony variation on task differentiation and collective behavior in a desert social spider

Abstract

Social animals are extraordinarily diverse and ecologically abundant. In understanding the success of complex animal societies, task differentiation has been identified as a central mechanism underlying the emergence and performance of adaptive collective behaviors. In this study, we explore how individual differences in behavior and body size determine task allocation in the social spider Stegodyphus dumicola. We found that individuals with high body condition indices were less likely to participate in prey capture, and individuals’ tendency to engage in prey capture was not associated with either their behavioral traits or body size. No traits were associated with individuals’ propensity to participation in web repair, but small individuals were more likely to engage in standard web-building. We also discovered consistent, differences among colonies in their collective behavior (i.e., colony-level personality). At the colony level, within-colony variation in behavior (aggressiveness) and body size were positively associated with aggressive foraging behavior. Together, our findings reveal a subtly complex relationship between individual variation and collective behavior in this species. We close by comparing the relationship between individual variation and social organization in nine species of social spider. We conclude that intraspecific variation is a major force behind the social organization of multiple independently derived lineages of social spider.

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Acknowledgements

We thank F. Armagost, J. Chen, A. Coleman, Z. Hess, K. Knutson, L. MacDonald, D. McDermott, M. McGuirk, A. Morris, T. Shearer, and K. Sweeney for laboratory assistance. We are indebted to Stephen Pratt for his helpful comments on a previous version of this paper. We thank the South Africa Department of Tourism, Environment, and Conservation for providing permits for field research and spider collection (Collection/Export Permit: FAUNA 189/2013—#0056-AAA041-00016, Research Permit: FAUNA 1060/2012—#16634). Funding for this research was provided by the University of Pittsburgh and the National Science Foundation (NSF IOS 1352705).

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Correspondence to Carl N. Keiser.

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Carl N. Keiser and Devin K. Jones are the co-first authors.

Communicated by J. C. Choe

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Keiser, C.N., Jones, D.K., Modlmeier, A.P. et al. Exploring the effects of individual traits and within-colony variation on task differentiation and collective behavior in a desert social spider. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68, 839–850 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1696-9

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Keywords

  • Animal personality
  • Collective behavior
  • Body condition
  • Social spider
  • Stegodyphus task differentiation