Disentangling the visual cues used by a jumping spider to locate its microhabitat.
Many arthropod species have evolved to thrive only on the leaves of a particular species of plant, which they must be capable of finding in order to survive accidental displacement, developmental transitions or the changing of the seasons. A number of studies have tested whether such species select leaves to land or oviposit on based on their color, shape or size. Unfortunately, many studies did not control for correlates of these characters, such as the brightness of different colors, the areas of different shapes, and the level of ambient illumination in the vicinity of different sizes of leaves. In the present study, we tested for leaf color, shape and size preferences in a leaf-dwelling jumping spider (Lyssomanes viridis) with known summer and winter host plants, while controlling for these correlates. First, color preferences were tested outdoors under the natural illumination of their forest habitat. Lyssomanes viridis did not prefer to perch on a green substrate compared with various shades of gray, but did prefer the second darkest shade of gray we presented them with. Of the green and gray substrates, this shade of gray's integrated photon flux (350-700 nm), viewed from below, i.e. the spider's perspective in the arena, was the most similar to that of real leaves. This relationship also held when we weighted the transmitted photon flux by the jumping spiders' green photopigment spectral sensitivity. Spiders did not prefer the star-like leaf shape of their summer host plant, Liquidambar styraciflua, to a green circle of the same area. When given a choice between a L. styraciflua leaf-shaped stimulus that was half the area of an otherwise identical alternative, spiders preferred the larger stimulus. However, placing a neutral density filter over the side of the experimental arena with the smaller stimulus abolished this preference, with spiders then being more likely to choose the side of the arena with the smaller stimulus. In conclusion, L. viridis appears to use ambient illumination and possibly perceived leaf brightness but not leaf shape or color to locate its microhabitat. This calls for a careful re-examination of which visual cues a variety of arthropods are actually attending to when they search for their preferred host species or microhabitat.
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