An insect-feeding guild of carnivorous plants and spiders: Does optimal foraging lead to competition or facilitation?

Philip H. Crowley, Kevin R. Hopper, James J. Krupa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Carnivorous plants and spiders, along with their prey, are main players in an insect-feeding guild found on acidic, poorly drained soils in disturbed habitat. Darwin's notion that these plants must actively attract the insects they capture raises the possibility that spiders could benefit from proximity to prey hotspots created by the plants. Alternatively, carnivorous plants and spiders may deplete prey locally or (through insect redistribution) more widely, reducing each other's gain rates from predation. Here, we formulate and analyze a model of this guild, parameterized for carnivorous sundews and lycosid spiders, under assumptions of random movement by insects and optimal foraging by predators. Optimal foraging here involves gain maximization via trap investment (optimal web sizes and sundew trichome densities) and an ideal free distribution of spiders between areas with and without sundews. We find no facilitation: spiders and sundews engage in intense exploitation competition. Insect attraction by plants modestly increases sundew gain rates but slightly decreases spider gain rates. In the absence of population size structure, optimal spider redistribution between areas with and without sundews yields web sizes that are identical for all spiders, regardless of proximity to sundews. Web-building spiders have higher gain rates than wandering spiders in this system at high insect densities, but wandering spiders have the advantage at low insect densities. Results are complex, indicating that predictions to be tested empirically must be based on careful quantitative assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)801-819
Number of pages19
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Drosera
  • Functional response
  • Ideal free distribution
  • Lycosidae
  • Mathematical model
  • Prey attractant
  • Spatial scale
  • Sundews
  • Wandering spiders
  • Web-building spiders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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