Warring arthropod societies: Social spider colonies can delay annihilation by predatory ants via reduced apparency and increased group size
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Sociality provides individuals with benefits via collective foraging and anti-predator defense. One of the costs of living in large groups, however, is increased apparency to natural enemies. Here, we test how the individual-level and collective traits of spider societies can increase the risk of discovery and death by predatory ants. We transplanted colonies of the social spider Stegodyphus dumicola into a habitat dense with one of their top predators, the pugnacious ant Anoplolepis custodiens. With three different experiments, we test how colony-wide survivorship in a predator-dense habitat can be altered by colony apparency (i.e., the presence of a capture web), group size, and group composition (i.e., the proportion of bold and shy personality types present). We also test how spiders' social context (i.e., living solitarily vs. among conspecifics) modifies their behaviour toward ants in their capture web. Colonies with capture webs intact were discovered by predatory ants on average 25% faster than colonies with the capture web removed, and all discovered colonies eventually collapsed and succumbed to predation. However, the lag time from discovery by ants to colony collapse was greater for colonies containing more individuals. The composition of individual personality types in the group had no influence on survivorship. Spiders in a social group were more likely to approach ants caught in their web than were isolated spiders. Isolated spiders were more likely to attack a safe prey item (a moth) than they were to attack ants and were more likely to retreat from ants after contact than they were after contact with moths. Together, our data suggest that the physical structures produced by large animal societies can increase their apparency to natural enemies, though larger groups can facilitate a longer lag time between discovery and demise. Lastly, the interaction between spiders and predatory ants seems to depend on the social context in which spiders reside.
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