The impact of snow accumulation on a heath spider community in a sub-Arctic landscape

Abstract

Patterns of snow cover across the Arctic are expected to change as a result of shrub encroachment and climate change. As snow cover impacts both the subnivean environment and the date of spring melt, these changes could impact Arctic food webs by altering the phenology and survival of overwintering arthropods, such as spiders (Araneae). In this field study, we used snow fences to increase snow cover across a series of large (375 m2) heath tundra plots and examined the effects on the local spider community during the following growing season. Fences increased snow cover and delayed melt on the treatment plots, paralleling the conditions of nearby shrub sites. Frequent sampling over the season revealed that increased snow cover did not affect spider abundance across different genera nor did it affect overall community composition. Further, our snow treatment did not affect the dates when plots achieved seasonal catch milestones (25, 50, 75 % of total seasonal catch). Increased winter snow cover did, however, produce higher body masses in adults and juveniles of the dominant species Pardosa lapponica (Lycosidae), beginning immediately after snow melt until midway through the growing season. In addition, ovary/oocyte mass of mature P. lapponica females was significantly higher on treatment plots during the peak reproductive period. This is the first experimental manipulation study to report a significant effect of landscape-level changes to winter snow cover on the biomass of an Arctic macroarthropod.

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Acknowledgments

The idea for this study came about from conversations with Robert L. Jefferies, whose experience in the Arctic provided important guidance during the preliminary phases of this work. This project would not have been possible without the assistance of Marine Cusa, who provided tremendous field support and advice on the experimental design. We thank LeeAnn Fishback, Carley Basler, and the Churchill Northern Studies Centre for crucial logistical and financial support. Anonymous reviewers provided excellent advice for improving previous versions of this paper. This work was supported by an NSERC Northern Research Internship to GL and through the Northern Scientific Training Program (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada).

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Correspondence to Geoffrey Legault.

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Dedicated to the memory of Robert L. Jefferies for his lifetime of excellence in teaching and research.

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Legault, G., Weis, A.E. The impact of snow accumulation on a heath spider community in a sub-Arctic landscape. Polar Biol 36, 885–894 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-013-1313-9

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Keywords

  • Shrub encroachment
  • Arctic arthropods
  • Snow fence
  • Spider mass
  • Arctic spiders
  • Snow accumulation