Aerial activity of linyphiid spiders: modelling dispersal distances from meteorology and behaviour.
Dispersal parameters are critical for modelling spatially dynamic populations yet remain among the most difficult to quantify. Linyphiid spider aerial dispersal by 'ballooning' on silk threads is dependent on meteorological factors and amenable to analysis and quantification. Spider aerial activity was measured during consecutive 10-min periods for up to 11 h a day. Aerial density was measured at four heights using sticky traps. The time intervals between successive flights were measured by observing spiders landing and taking-off. Meteorological measurements (wind speeds and temperatures) were taken simultaneously with the collection of airborne spiders, and used to calculate Richardson numbers to estimate atmospheric turbulence. Numbers of airborne spiders on any given day, and their vertical density profile on different days, were significantly correlated with Richardson numbers. Single flight distances were modelled using estimates of ascent and descent rates, the vertical density profile of airborne spiders and the wind speeds they experience aloft. The distributions of single flight distances and the time spent between successive flights were combined in an alternating renewal process to model the number of flights and the total daily dispersal distances of ballooning spiders as a function of available dispersal time. On a day with, for example, 6 h of suitable weather, linyphiid spiders can potentially disperse a mean distance of approximately 30 km downwind. Synthesis and applications. We have developed a dispersal model of linyphiid spiders that is central to the further development of spatially dynamic population models of these spiders in agricultural landscapes. It could also be adapted for application to other wind-borne organisms. Such models have a key role in the future management of sustainable agricultural systems where natural predators are seen as major components of pest control.