Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Spider personality study shows evidence of 'social niche specialization'

(Phys.org) —A team of researchers with the University of Pittsburgh (and one from the Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Müggelseedamm, Germany) has found evidence of "social niche specialization" in a species of social spiders. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, the team describes how they experimented with 84 artificially created colonies of the spiders and what they learned about their behavior as a result.

Social niche specialization is a theory of animal behavior that describes individual behavior within a social group—the idea is that the more social individual members are, the more individual differences emerge, leading to niche personalities for individual members. Groups with member niches are thought to be stronger and more organized.

To find out if Stegodyphus dumicola, a social spider native to the Kalahari, conform to the theory, the researchers created 84 web colonies artificially and allowed time for acclimation. Soon thereafter, the colonies were disturbed, causing the need to recreate the structure that bound them together. Some groups of the spiders were allowed to remain together, their initial units intact. Other groups were separated and interspersed. It was by watching how the two different types of colonies emerged that the researchers found evidence of social niche specialization—spiders in the colonies that remained with their initial units tended to be bolder, indicating a stronger social structure.


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