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Ecology and evolution of the invasive spider Mermessus trilobatus in Europe

  • Invasive species play increasing roles worldwide. Invasions are considered successful when species establish and spread in their exotic range. Subsequently, dispersal is a major determinant of species’ range dynamics. Mermessus trilobatus, native to North America, has rapidly spread in Europe via aerial dispersal. Here we investigated the interplay of ecological and evolutionary processes behind its colonisation success. First, we examined two possible ecological mechanisms. Similar to other invasive invertebrates, the colonisation success of Mermessus trilobatus might be related to human-induced habitat disturbance. Opposite to this expectation, our results showed that densities of Mermessus trilobatus decreased with soil disturbance in grasslands suggesting that its invasion success was not connected to a ruderal strategy. Further, invasive species often escape the ecological pressures from novel enemies in their exotic ranges. Unexpectedly, invasive Mermessus trilobatus was more sensitive to a native predator than native Erigone dentipalpis during our predator susceptibility trials. This indicates that the relation between the invasive spider and its native predator is dominated by prey naïveté rather than enemy release. The remaining three chapters of the thesis investigated the dispersal behaviour of this invasive species. Hitherto, studies of passive aerial dispersal used wind as the primary dispersal-initiating factor despite a recent demonstration of the effects of the atmospheric electric fields on spiders’ pre-dispersal behaviour. During our experiments, only the wind facilitated the flight, although electric fields induced pre-dispersal behaviour in spiders. Consequently, studies around passive aerial dispersal should control electric fields but use wind as a stimulating factor. Rapidly expanding species might be disproportionately distributed in their exotic range, with an accumulation of dispersive genotypes at the leading edge of their range. Such imbalanced spatial segregation is possible when the dispersal behaviour of expanding species is heritable. Our results showed that the dispersal traits of Mermessus trilobatus were heritable through both parents and for both sexes with recessive inheritance of high dispersal ability in this species. Following the heritability experiments, we documented an accelerated spread of Mermessus trilobatus in Europe and tested whether dispersal, reproduction or competing ability was at the source of this pattern. Our results showed that the accumulation of more mobile but not reproductive or competitive genotypes at the expansion front of this invasive species gave rise to an accelerated range expansion by more than 1350 km in under 45 years. Invasive Mermessus trilobatus is inferior to native sympatric species with respect to competing ability (Eichenberger et al., 2009), disturbance tolerance and predation pressure. Nevertheless, the species successfully established in its exotic range and spread by accelerating its expansion rate. Rapid reproduction that balances the high ecological pressures might be the other potential mechanism behind its colonisation success in Europe and deserves further investigation.

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Author:Nijat Narimanov
Referee:Martin Entling, Dries Bonte, Sascha Buchholz
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of completion:2022/03/16
Date of publication:2022/04/01
Publishing institution:Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Universitätsbibliothek
Granting institution:Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Fachbereich 7
Date of final exam:2022/03/11
Release Date:2022/04/01
Number of pages:95 Seiten
Kumulative Dissertation
Institutes:Fachbereich 7
Licence (German):License LogoEs gilt das deutsche Urheberrecht: § 53 UrhG