Stereotyped behaviors have been routinely used as characters for phylogeny inference, but the same cannot be said of the plastic aspects of performance, which routinely are taken as a result of ecological processes. In this paper we examine the evolution of one of these plastic behavioral phenotypes, thus fostering a bridge between ecological and evolutionary processes. Foraging behavior in spiders is context dependent in many aspects, since it varies with prey type and size, spider nutritional and developmental state, previous experience and, in webweavers, is dependent on the structure of the web. Reeling is a predatory tactic typical of cobweb weavers (Theridiidae), in which the spider moves the prey toward her by pulling the capture thread (gumfoot) to which it is adhered. Predatory reeling is dependent on the gumfoot for its expression, and has not been previously reported in orbweavers. In order to investigate the evolution of this web dependent behavior, we built artificial, pseudogumfoot lines in orbwebs and registered parameters of the predatory tactics in this modified web. Aspects of the predatory tactics of 240 individuals (12 species in 4 families) were measured, and the resulting data were optimized on the phylogeny of Orbiculariae. All species perform predatory reeling with the pseudogumfoot lines. Thus, predatory reeling is homologous for the whole Orbiculariae group. In nature, holes made by insects in ecribellate orbs produce pseudogumfoot lines (similar to our experimentally modified webs), and thus reeling occurred naturally in ecribellates. Nevertheless, outside lab conditions, predatory reeling does not occur among cribellate orbweavers, so that this behavior could not have been selected for in the cribellate ancester of orbweavers. Cribellate spiders are flexible enough as to present novel and adaptive predatory responses (reeling) even when exposed for the first time to conditions outside their usual environment. Thus, the evolution of reeling suggests an alternative mechanism for the production of evolutionary novelties; that is, the exploration of unusual ecological conditions and of the regular effects these abnormal conditions have on phenotype expression.
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