The history of spider ecology is discussed from its early beginnings in 1684 when the natural historian Martin Lister published his observations, to the post-war period up until 1973 when ecological spider research gathered momentum. While there have been many important observations since Lister, spider ecology appeared explicitly in the titles of papers only after the turn of the 20th century. However, much of what was published up until the 1950s is of little scientific value because these works contained natural history notes and conjecture, not manipulative experimentation. The exception was a paper written in 1939 by Pontus Palmgren who was not an ecologist but paradoxically a functional anatomist with a particular interest in ornithology. His paper was in the spirit of Ernst Haeckel's original definition of ecology that was seen as synonymous with physiology, a legacy that was detected in many of the papers decades after Palmgren. However, there was little evidence that ecological theory was being tested. Instead, theoretical inputs were largely ignored with most spider ecologists preferring to pursue the somewhat circular interest of basic observational studies. Eventually after some considerable delay, Charles Elton's theories of the niche and succession fed into spider ecology but the papers were often weak and invariably flawed due to the absence of experimental manipulations. Notably, it was not until the 1950s, when the elegant experiments of Edwin Nørgaard who manipulated the system in order to understand the interactions between spiders and their environment, that scientific spider ecology began. Edwin Nørgaard should be credited as the father of ‘spider ecology’, although Matthias Schaefer and Sven Almquist also made important contributions to the field and should not be overlooked. These researchers employed manipulative techniques during a period in which this experimental approach was not widely used in spider ecology. I conclude this review with a look to the future and predict that model selection will become much more prevalent, although it will never replace manipulative experimentation. One outstanding issue that has remained since 1684 has been the gift of ecological theory to the wider scientific community. Although spider ecologists have received theoretical frameworks from other disciplines such as botany and entomology, they have never reciprocated although they are now well placed to do so.
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