We examined web-building spider species richness and abundance in forests across a deer density gradient to determine the effects of sika deer browsing on spiders among habitats and feeding guilds. Deer decreased the abundance of web-building spiders in understory vegetation but increased their abundance in the litter layer. Deer seemed to affect web-building spiders in the understory vegetation by reducing the number of sites for webs because vegetation complexity was positively correlated with spider density and negatively correlated with deer density. In contrast, the presence of vegetation just above the litter layer decreased the spider density, and deer exerted a negative effect on this vegetation, possibly resulting in an indirect positive effect on spider density. The vegetation just above the litter layer may be unsuitable as a scaffold for building webs if it is too flexible to serve as a reliable web support, and may even hinder spiders from building webs on litter. Alternatively, the negative effect of this vegetation on spiders in the litter may be as a result of reduced local prey availability under the leaves because of the reduced accessibility of aerial insects. The response to deer browsing on web-building spiders that inhabit the understory vegetation varied with feeding guild. Deer tended to affect web-invading spiders, which inhabit the webs of other spiders and steal prey, more heavily than other web-building spiders, probably because of the accumulated effects of habitat fragmentation through the trophic levels. Thus, the treatment of a particular higher-order taxon as a homogeneous group could result in misleading conclusions about the effects of mammalian herbivores.
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