Impacts of female body size on cannibalism and juvenile abundance in a dominant arctic spider.
Body size influences an individual's physiology and the nature of its intra- and interspecific interactions. Changes in this key functional trait can therefore have important implications for populations as well. For example, among invertebrates, there is typically a positive correlation between female body size and reproductive output. Increasing body size can consequently trigger changes in population density, population structure (e.g. adult to juvenile ratio) and the strength of intraspecific competition. Body size changes have been documented in several species in the Arctic, a region that is warming rapidly. In particular, wolf spiders, one of the most abundant arctic invertebrate predators, are becoming larger and therefore more fecund. Whether these changes are affecting their populations and role within food webs is currently unclear. We investigated the population structure and feeding ecology of the dominant wolf spider species Pardosa lapponica at two tundra sites where adult spiders naturally differ in mean body size. Additionally, we performed a mesocosm experiment to investigate how variation in wolf spider density, which is likely to change as a function of body size, influences feeding ecology and its sensitivity to warming. We found that juvenile abundance is negatively associated with female size and that wolf spiders occupied higher trophic positions where adult females were larger. Because female body size is positively related to fecundity in P. lapponica, the unexpected finding of fewer juveniles with larger females suggests an increase in density-dependent cannibalism as a result of increased intraspecific competition for resources. Higher rates of density-dependent cannibalism are further supported by the results from our mesocosm experiment, in which individuals occupied higher trophic positions in plots with higher wolf spider densities. We observed no changes in wolf spider feeding ecology in association with short-term experimental warming. Our results suggest that body size variation in wolf spiders is associated with variation in intraspecific competition, feeding ecology and population structure. Given the widespread distribution of wolf spiders in arctic ecosystems, body size shifts in these predators as a result of climate change could have implications for lower trophic levels and for ecosystem functioning.
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