, Volume 170, Issue 3, pp 651–657 | Cite as

Effects of extreme climatic events on small-scale spatial patterns: a 20-year study of the distribution of a desert spider

  • Klaus BirkhoferEmail author
  • Joh Henschel
  • Yael Lubin
Population ecology - Original research


Individuals of most animal species are non-randomly distributed in space. Extreme climatic events are often ignored as potential drivers of distribution patterns, and the role of such events is difficult to assess. Seothyra henscheli (Araneae, Eresidae) is a sedentary spider found in the Namib dunes in Namibia. The spider constructs a sticky-edged silk web on the sand surface, connected to a vertical, silk-lined burrow. Above-ground web structures can be damaged by strong winds or heavy rainfall, and during dispersal spiders are susceptible to environmental extremes. Locations of burrows were mapped in three field sites in 16 out of 20 years from 1987 to 2007, and these grid-based data were used to identify the relationship between spatial patterns, climatic extremes and sampling year. According to Morisita’s index, individuals had an aggregated distribution in most years and field sites, and Geary’s C suggests clustering up to scales of 2 m. Individuals were more aggregated in years with high maximum wind speed and low annual precipitation. Our results suggest that clustering is a temporally stable property of populations that holds even under fluctuating burrow densities. Climatic extremes, however, affect the intensity of clustering behaviour: individuals seem to be better protected in field sites with many conspecific neighbours. We suggest that burrow-site selection is driven at least partly by conspecific cuing, and this behaviour may protect populations from collapse during extreme climatic events.


Aggregation Araneae Climate Conspecific cuing Spatial analysis 



The Ministry of Environment and Tourism granted permission for this long-term project to be conducted in the Namib-Naukluft Park. We are grateful for field assistance by research technicians and interns from the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre. We further wish to thank three anonymous referees for their comments. This is publication number 768 of the Mitrani Department of Desert Ecology.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology, Biodiversity and Conservation ScienceLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Gobabeb Training and Research CentreWalvis BayNamibia
  3. 3.Mitrani Department of Desert EcologyBlaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the NegevBeer ShevaIsrael

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