Behavioural plasticity in Argyrodes antipodiana.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In this thesis I look at the behavioural plasticity of A.antipodiana while foraging and interacting with conspecifics. The aim is to see how an animal, with apparently limited intelligence is able to deal with environmental variability. I conclude that A.antipodiana appears to have been able to overcome these limitations very effectively by using four methods, of which the first two effectively reduce the amount of learning necessary. Firstly, A.antipodiana simplifies the situation as much as possible by ignoring some of the variability. For example, in social situations, A.antipodiana appears to recognize only a few categories of conspecifics, rather than recognize conspecifics as individuals. Consequently, the social groups of A.antipodiana are not characterized by complicating factors such as aggressive orders or dominance hierarchies. Secondly, A.antipodiana largely ignores current situations and instead bases much of its behavioural decisions on its internal conditions. For example, in male-male conflicts, males respond to their opponents largely according to their own size, level of hunger, the number of contests in which they have participated, or their past experience of winning or losing; rather than to the characteristics of their opponents. Likewise in social interactions A.antipodiana is more inclined to be aggressive towards conspecifics if it itself is foraging, and less inclined if it is feeding with the host. When the situation cannot be simplified, A.antipodiana adopts a third response which is to use the simplest method possible for adjusting its behaviour. For example, A.antipodiana's ability to develop araneophagic skills appears to be governed by a critical period. Thus rather than developing araneophagic skills through trial and error with practise, the ability appears to be simply 'switched on' if required. The fourth means by which A.antipodiana compensates for limited intelligence is to be very selective in the areas in which it does use learning. For example, A.antipodiana seems to use problem solving when foraging, but only when it is actually trying to reach the food bundle upon which the host is feeding. A.antipodiana also seems to learn to move more stealthfully on the host's web. There is even evidence that A.antipodiana may behave with intent when males are competing for opportunities to copulate. Thus the intelligence of A.antipodiana appears to be severely limited. However, despite these limitations, by reducing the amount of learning necessary, and then channelling what learning it has to very restricted, but very poignant areas of its behaviour, A.antipodiana, is able to respond very effectively to its variable environment.