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Long-term behavioural consistency in prey capture but not in web maintenance in a social spider

Abstract

Behavioural differences between individuals that are consistent over time or across context are termed behavioural types or personalities. Social spiders are an emerging model for studying animal personality in social systems and our study was motivated by the lack of work examining the persistence of personality in the long-term and under changed conditions. We examined consistency and plasticity in two key behaviours, prey capture and web maintenance, and tested for the presence of a behavioural syndrome between them in the social spider, Stegodyphus sarasinorum. Our experiments over a large part of the adult life span show that not all spiders capture prey, suggesting behavioural consistency with implications for task differentiation. Through prey manipulation experiments, we further probed the role of hunger, proximity to prey, body weight and number of days into the experiment on individual propensity to capture prey. Our results demonstrate that under altered prey availability, responses of individuals are plastic and influenced by hunger. These results suggest that behavioural consistency can be modulated significantly by extrinsic factors. In contrast, we did not find consistent differences between individuals in their participation during web maintenance. Additionally, we did not find a behavioural syndrome. Together, these results suggest a scenario of quasi-specialisation in which there is no strict partitioning of tasks. For the first time, our results demonstrate behavioural consistency over extended periods of time in social spiders and have implications for colony efficiency and survival. We argue that studies spanning ecologically relevant time periods and environmental variation can reveal the full extent of behavioural consistency and flexibility.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Irene George, Sreedevi Raghu and Richa Shah for help with the lab experiments. Archana Pai, Sujith Vijay, Bharat Parthasarathy, Shivani Krishna and Balamurali for useful discussions and the anonymous reviewers for useful comments. We are grateful to Dr. Shibu and Agastya International Foundation for logistical support in conducting field experiments. We thank V. Saravanan for statistical advice and Anil Shaji for supporting TB through funds from a Ramanujan Fellowship. This project was funded by a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) grant to HS and intramural funding from IISER Trivandrum.

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Correspondence to Hema Somanathan.

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Thejasvi Beleyur and Divya Uma Bellur contributed equally to this work.

Communicated by M. Elgar

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Beleyur, T., Bellur, D.U. & Somanathan, H. Long-term behavioural consistency in prey capture but not in web maintenance in a social spider. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 69, 1019–1028 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-015-1915-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-015-1915-z

Keywords

  • Animal personality
  • Behavioural consistency
  • Behavioural syndrome
  • Plasticity
  • Stegodyphus sarasinorum
  • Social spider