The response of spider (Araneae) assemblages to structural heterogeneity and prey abundance in sub-montane vegetation modified by conservation grazing

P Dennis, J Skartveit, A Kunaver, DI McCracken

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The effect of experimental livestock grazing regimens (4 treatments × 6 replicates) on spiders via habitat structure and prey abundance was investigated on sub-montane habitats in the Southern Highlands of Scotland. The study, 2002–2004 included a baseline survey under the prior, commercial sheep grazing regimen and two assessments of spider assemblages post-treatment: commercial stocking density of sheep; 1/3 stocking density with sheep; 1/3 stocking density cattle with sheep; and no grazing. Spiders were sampled with a suction sampler, five sucks at each of 25 sample units by 24 plots (600 samples in 2003 and 2004, ca. 320 in 2002). Spider abundance and species richness increased under reduced stocking density, mixed herbivore and ungrazed treatments indirectly via changes in vegetation structure and prey abundance. The results refuted a meta-analysis that concluded species richness of spiders is unaffected by grazing. Grazing regimens caused turnover in species composition more than the net difference in species richness suggested, implying that no single, optimal grazing regimen will support as many species as a patchwork under varied grazing management. Conservation grazing benefits spiders and will have significant benefits for food webs in sub-montane ecosystems but the period to equilibrium after changes to grazing requires further investigation. © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)715 - 728
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Ecology and Conservation
Publication statusFirst published - 2015


Bibliographical note



  • Calcifuge grassland
  • Domesticated herbivores
  • Habitat heterogeneity
  • Montane ecology
  • Sub-montane mire
  • Suction sampling

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