Responses of foliage-living spider assemblage composition and traits to a climatic gradient in Themeda grasslands Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • For speciose, but poorly known groups, such as terrestrial arthropods, functional traits present a potential avenue to assist in predicting responses to environmental change. Species turnover is common along environmental gradients, but it is unclear how this is reflected in species traits. Community‐level change in arthropod traits, other than body size, has rarely been explored across spatial scales comparable to those examined here. We hypothesized that the composition and morphological traits of spider assemblages would differ across a gradient of climate and habitat structure. We examined foliage‐living spider assemblages associated with Themeda triandra grasslands along a 900 km climatic gradient in south‐eastern Australia. We used sweep‐netting to collect T. triandra‐associated spiders and counted juveniles and identified adults. We also measured morphological traits of adult spiders and noted their hunting mode. Associations with measures of habitat structure were less consistent than relationships with climate. Both juvenile and adult spiders were more abundant in warmer sites, although species richness was not affected by temperature. We found distinct turnover in species composition along the climatic gradient, with hunting spiders, particularly crab spiders (Thomisidae), making up a greater proportion of assemblages in warmer climates. A range of traits of spiders correlated with the climatic gradient. For example, larger spider species and species that were active hunters were more common in warmer climates. Changes in morphological traits across species, rather than within species drove the morphology‐climate relationship. Strong climate‐trait correlations suggest that it may be possible to predict changes in functional traits of assemblages in response to anthropogenic disturbances such as climate change.

publication date

  • 2015

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