University of California

An ecological comparison of spiders from urban and natural habitats in California


Jack B. Fraser
Gordon W. Frankie

Authors Affiliations

Jack B. Fraser was an entomologist, Western Regional Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Albany, CA 94710; Gordon W. Frankie was professor of entolomogy, Department of Entomology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720.

Publication Information

Hilgardia 54(3):1-24. DOI:10.3733/hilg.v54n03p031. March 1986.

PDF of full article, Cite this article


A comparative study of spider communities in urban, native, and semi-native habitats was conducted in 1980 in northern California. Selected biotic and abiotic factors thought to be responsible for observed differences in spider-community composition among habitats were investigated.

Three backyards in the city of Berkeley comprised the urban study site. Plants found at this site included: Sequoia sempervirens, Juniperus sabina ‘Tamariscifolia,’ Hedera helix, Camellia japonica, and various annual and perennial flowers. Spider-community composition at the urban habitat consisted primarily of web-building spiders above ground level (aerial). Ground-surface spiders were fewer in number and species due to manipulation of the environment by homeowners.

A relatively undisturbed coastal chaparral habitat, 7.7 km east of Berkeley (in Contra Costa County), was chosen to represent the native site. A limited number of plant species and structural diversity was characteristic of this habitat. Baccharis pilularis, Lupinus albifrons, Lupinus bicolor, and various grasses (Avena fatua, Bromus mollis, etc.) dominated the plant community at this study site, Briones Reservior. Total numbers and numbers of species of aerial spiders were low at this habitat. However, ground-surface spiders were more numerous, probably due to an abundance of prey.

A semi-native habitat (Tilden Park) located between the urban and native habitats shared plant species with both these habitats. Plant species included both ornamental plants (Juniperus sabina, Pyracantha sp., and Prunus sp.) and native plants (Quercus agrifolia and Baccharis pilularis). The climate was most similar to the native habitat, although more humid. The aerial and ground-surface spider communities resembled the urban and native habitats, respectively.

Plant architecture in conjunction with local climate influenced aerial spider community composition. A greater diversity of plant species provided a heterogeneous habitat for aerial spiders at both urban and semi-native habitats. The cooler and more humid climates at these sites reduced exposure to potentially limiting factors such as desiccation. Low diversity of plant architecture and a hot and dry climate restricted aerial spider numbers and species at the native site.

Greater numbers of ground-surface spiders at the native and semi-native habitats were probably due to an abundance of prey, while owner manipulation of urban gardens negatively influenced ground-surface spider numbers and species at the urban habitat.

Literature Cited

Abraham B. J. Spatial and temporal patterns in a sagebrush steppe spider community (Arachnida: Araneae). J. Arach. 1983. 11:31-50.

Cherrett J. M. The distribution of spiders on the Moor House National Reserve, Westmoreland. J. Anim. Ecol. 1964. 33:27-48. DOI: 10.2307/2347 [CrossRef]

Culin J. D., Rust W. Comparison of the ground surface and foliage dwelling spider communities in a soybean habitat. Environ. Entomol. 1980. 9:577-82.

Curtis D. J., Bignal B. A vertical quadrant method of describing vegetation structure 1978. Res. and Tech. Notes S.W. Region Scotland No. 2

Davis B. N. K. The ground arthropods of London gardens. The London Nat. 1979. 58:15-24.

Duffey E. A population study of spiders in limestone grassland. Description of study area, sampling methods and population characteristics. J. Anim. Ecol. 1962. 31:571-99.

Duffey E. Habitat selection by spiders in man-made environments 1974. Proc. 6th Int. Arachn. Congr. pp. 51-67

Frankie G. W., Koehler C. Perspectives in Urban Entomology. 1980. New York: Academic Press.

Fraser J. B. Ecological and Biological Studies on Urban and Rural Spiders, Especially on Hololena adnexa (Araneae: Agelenidae) 1983. Ph.D. Thesis, Univ. Calif., Berkeley

Gill D., Bonnett P. Nature in the Urban Landscape. A study of City Ecosystems. 1973. Baltimore and New York: York Press, Inc. p. 36-57.

Greenquist E. A., Rover J. S. Lycosid spiders on artificial foliate: stratum choice, orientation preference, and prey wrapping 1976. pp.196-209. Psyche, July

Greenslade P. J. M. Pitfall trapping as a method for studying populations of Carabidae (Coleoptera). J. Anim. Ecol. 1964. 33:301-10. DOI: 10.2307/2632 [CrossRef]

Greenstone M. H. Determinants of web spider species diversity vs. prey availability. Oecologia. 1984. 62:299-304. DOI: 10.1007/BF00384260 [CrossRef]

Hatley C. L., MacMahon J. A. Spider community organization: seasonal variation and the role of vegetation architecture. Environ. Entomol. 1980. 9:632-39.

Hawksworth D. L. The Changing Flora and Fauna of Britain. Systematics Assoc. Special Vol. No. 6. 1974. London: Academic Press. p. 7-26.

Kaston B. J., Frankie G. W., Koehler C. S. Synanthropic spiders. 1983. New York: Praeger Press. p. 221-45. Urban Entomology Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Eds.)

Landsberg H. E. The Urban Climate. 1981. New York: Academic Press. 83p.

Lowrie D. C. The ecological succession of spiders of the Chicago area dunes. Ecology. 1948. 29:334-51. DOI: 10.2307/1930993 [CrossRef]

Lubin V. D. Seasonal abundance and diversity of web-building spiders in relation to habitat structure on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. J. Arach. 1978. 6:31-52.

MacArthur R. H., MacArthur J. W. On bird species diversity. Ecology. 1961. 42:594-98. DOI: 10.2307/1932254 [CrossRef]

Muma M. H. Comparison of ground surface spiders in four central Florida ecosystems. Florida Entomol. 1973. 56:173-96. DOI: 10.2307/3493122 [CrossRef]

Munz P. A. A California Flora and Supplement. 1968. Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press, p. 17p.

Murdoch W. W., Evans F. C., Peterson C. H. Diversity and pattern in plants and insects. Ecology. 1972. 53:819-29. DOI: 10.2307/1934297 [CrossRef]

Nie N. H., Hull C. H., Jenkins J. G., Steinbrenner K., Bent D. H. SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). 1975. 2nd ed. New York: ORR, H. D., and others, McGraw-Hill.

Nie N. H., Hull C. H., Jenkins J. G., Steinbrenner K., Bent D. H. Introduction to Computer Programming for Biological Scientists. 1973. Boston: Allyn and Bacan, Inc.

Pianka E. R. Complexity, desert lizards, and spatial heterogeneity. Ecology. 1966. 47:1055-59.

Robinson J. V. The effect of architectural variation in habitat on a spider community: an experimental field study. Ecology. 1981. 62:73-80. DOI: 10.2307/1936670 [CrossRef]

Schmid J. A. Urban Vegetation: A Review and Chicago Case Study. 1975. Univ. Chicago, Geography Department. Research Paper 161

Southwood T. R. E. Ecological Methods with Particular Reference to the Study of Insect Populations. 1978. New York: Halsted Press, p. 524p.

Specht H. G., Dondale C. D. Spider populations in New Jersey apple orchards. J. Econ. Entomol. 1960. 53:810-14.

Turnbull A. L. The spider population of a stand of oak (Quercus robur L.) in Wytham Wood, Berks, England. Canadian Entomol. 1960. 92:110-24.

Turnbull A. L. A population of spiders and their potential prey in an overgrazed pasture in eastern Ontario. Can. J. Zool. 1966. 44:557-83. DOI: 10.1139/z66-059 [CrossRef]

Uetz G. W., Unzicker J. D. Pitfall trapping in ecological studies of wandering spiders. J. Arach. 1976. 3:101-11.

Vincent L. S., Frankie G. W. Arthropod fauna of live oak in urban and natural stands in Texas. IV. The spider fauna (Araneae). J. Kansas Entomol. Soc. 1985. 58:378-85.

Whitcomb W. H., Exline H., Hunter R. C. Spiders of the Arkansas cotton field. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Amer. 1963. 56:653-60.

Fraser J, Frankie G. 1986. An ecological comparison of spiders from urban and natural habitats in California. Hilgardia 54(3):1-24. DOI:10.3733/hilg.v54n03p031
Webmaster Email: sjosterman@ucanr.edu