Altitudinal patterns of spider sociality and the biology of a new midelevation social anelosimus species in Ecuador

Leticia Avilés*, Ingi Agnarsson, Patricio A. Salazar, Jessica Purcell, Gabriel Iturralde, Eric C. Yip, Kimberly S. Powers, Todd C. Bukowski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


To the extent that geography correlates with particular environmental parameters, the geographical distribution of phylogenetically related social and nonsocial organisms should shed light on the conditions that lead to sociality versus nonsociality. Social spiders are notorious for being concentrated in tropical regions of the world, occupying a set of habitats more restricted than those available to the phylogenetic lineages in which they occur. Here we document a parallel pattern involving elevation in the spider genus Anelosimus in America and describe the biology of a newly discovered social species found at what appears to be the altitudinal edge of sociality in the genus. We show that this is a cooperative permanent-social species with highly female-biased sex ratios but colonies that are one to two orders of magnitude smaller than those of a low-elevation congener of similar body size. We suggest that the absence of subsocial Anelosimus species in the lowland rain forest may be due to an increased probability of maternal death in this habitat due to greater predation and/or precipitation, while absence of a sufficient supply of large insects at high elevations or latitudes may restrict social species to low- to midelevation tropical moist forests. We refer to these as the "maternal survival" and "prey size" hypotheses, respectively, and suggest that both in combination may explain the geographical distribution of sociality in the genus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-792
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Other keywords

  • Biogeography of sociality
  • Elevation
  • Group foraging
  • Latitude
  • Sex ratio
  • Social evolution
  • Social spiders
  • Theridiidae


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