Microhabitat evaluation and utilization by a foraging predator

Kelton D. Welch, Kenneth F. Haynes, James D. Harwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Sit-and-wait foraging is a distinct strategy that involves significant investments prior to prey encounters. However, the complexity of decisions involved in selecting, maintaining and abandoning ambush sites provides considerable opportunity for learning and flexibility, particularly for trap-building predators, such as web-building spiders. Most research into the behaviour of trap-building predators has focused on the initiation and completion of foraging bouts (site selection and site abandonment, respectively), and less consideration has been given to the ecological significance of behaviours that occur between these end points. In this study, we sought to determine whether an interim behaviour, flexible trap-construction, is a means of real-time decision making during foraging, and test a new hypothesis that site selection is not a single decision, but a cumulative series of several, distinct decisions based on evaluation of relevant site characteristics. In a laboratory assay, web-building spiders were allowed to choose between microhabitats with and without prey, and site utilization and web construction behaviours were evaluated over a foraging period, to determine how prey cues impact the evaluation and selection of foraging sites by predators. Spiders responded to prey availability across successive phases of site searching and web construction, demonstrating that multiple, distinct decision-making steps are involved in foraging site selection. These results indicate that site maintenance behaviours, such as multiple phases of trap construction, are an integral part of the decision-making framework of foraging predators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-425
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation via Grant Agreement KSEF-148-502-10-261 with the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, and the University of Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station State project KY008055. This is publication number 12-08-120 of the University of Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station. Founding stock for springtail colonies was obtained from Ann Rypstra (Miami University, OH, U.S.A.) and derived from the Crossley Culture, maintained by Mike Draney (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, WI, U.S.A.). We are also very grateful to two anonymous referees and the Editor of Animal Behaviour for valuable comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. K.D.W. and J.D.H. conceived the research, and K.D.W. was supervised by J.D.H. throughout the research. K.D.W. and K.F.H. planned the experimental procedures and analysis and designed the experimental apparatuses. K.D.W. conducted the research and analysis and wrote the manuscript.


  • Ambush predator
  • Decision making
  • Flexible foraging
  • Mermessus fradeorum
  • Olfactory cue
  • Site selection
  • Spider web

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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