Spatial and temporal heterogeneity of suitable habitat in grasslands can promote species and functional diversity in arthropods, including responses by ubiquitous web-building spiders. A field experiment in tallgrass prairie habitat was performed to examine the response in abundance and web-type richness of aerial web-building spiders to changes in the availability of structure for web placement (vegetation architecture). To test the hypothesis that vegetation structure contributes directly to the web-builder abundance and web-type richness in open grasslands, we increased vegetation structure by adding dead woody stems of a common shrub along transects in each of three watersheds that differed in burn histories and existing habitat structure. Aerial web-building spiders were visually censused before and after the manipulations, at which time we recorded web-orientation, height, web-type, and the presence/absence of the spider associated with a web. Over the duration of the study, a total of seven web-type groups were encountered, of which medium-sized orb weavers were the most abundant web-building group across all watersheds. In general, higher spider abundances of orb-building spiders were observed in sections with added structure compared to the non-manipulated sections. However, reduced richness of web types was found on the manipulated sections of transects, suggesting that the architecture provided by woody stems does not provide sufficient and appropriate web-anchoring structure for the full range of web-building spiders groups in tallgrass prairie.
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Vol. 44 • No. 1