Iterative Evolution of Increased Behavioral Variation Characterizes the Transition to Sociality in Spiders and Proves Advantageous
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The evolution of group living is regarded as a major evolutionary transition and is commonly met with correlated shifts in ancillary characters. We tested for associations between social tendency and a myriad of abiotic variables (e.g., temperature and precipitation) and behavioral traits (e.g., boldness, activity level, and aggression) in a clade of spiders that exhibit highly variable social structures (genus Anelosimus). We found that, relative to their subsocial relatives, social species tended to exhibit reduced aggressiveness toward prey, increased fearfulness toward predators, and reduced activity levels, and they tended to occur in warm, wet habitats with low average wind velocities. Within-species variation in aggressiveness and boldness was also positively associated with sociality. We then assessed the functional consequences of within-species trait variation on reconstituted colonies of four test species (Anelosimus eximius, Anelosimus rupununi, Anelosimus guacamayos, and Anelosimus oritoyacu). We used colonies consisting of known ratios of docile versus aggressive individuals and group foraging success as a measure of colony performance. In all four test species, we found that groups composed of a mixture of docile and aggressive individuals outperformed monotypic groups. Mixed groups were more effective at subduing medium and large prey, and mixed groups collectively gained more mass during shared feeding events. Our results suggest that the iterative evolution of depressed aggressiveness and increased within-species behavioral variation in social spiders is advantageous and could be an adaptation to group living that is analogous to the formation of morphological castes within the social insects.
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