Publication details

Gut content metabarcoding of three widespread Iberian ant-eating spiders reveals specialisation on the same abundant harvester ants

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Year of publication 2022
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Ecological Entomology
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords ant predators; arachnid diet; Messor; myrmecophagy; stenophagy
Description Trophic specialists often follow unique evolutionary pathways, show potential applications in biological control, and suffer from increased ecological vulnerability. The myrmecophagous spider genus Zodarion, highly diversified across the Mediterranean, is among the few predatory groups showing strict stenophagy. Most Zodarion species display narrow distributions, but a few of them occur across hundreds to thousands of kilometres, raising questions on the causes of their comparatively higher distributional success. In this study, through extensive geographic sampling and the metabarcoding of gut contents, we explored the diets of the three most widely distributed Iberian species of Zodarion: Zodarion alacre and the two lineages of Zodarion styliferum. Our data support the three species as strictly myrmecophagous, showing diets largely based on the granivorous Messor ants. Auxiliary prey includes other ants of the subfamilies Myrmicinae, Formicinae, and Dolichoderinae. The diet breadth of both Z. styliferum lineages was slightly narrower than that of Z. alacre, coinciding with their higher physiological and behavioural efficiency for predating on Messor. We discard that the relatively large distribution range of our three focal Zodarion species is related to breaking the boundaries of myrmecophagy, and instead argue that such success could be favoured by their specialisation on Messor ants, which are also abundant and widespread across the Iberian Peninsula.
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