Spiders as potential indicators of elephant-induced habitat changes in endemic sand forest, Maputaland, South Africa

27 May 2010

Elephant impacts on spider assemblages, and the potential use of spiders as indicators of habitat changes, was assessed in central Maputaland, South Africa. Three habitats, namely undisturbed sand forest, elephant disturbed sand forest and mixed woodland, were sampled. To ensure a thorough representation of all spider guilds, spiders were collected by tree beating, sweep netting, active searching, leaf litter sifting and pitfall traps. In total, 2808 individual spiders, representing 36 families, 144 determined genera and 251 species were collected. Spider abundance was highest in the undisturbed sand forest (n=1129, S=156), followed by elephant disturbed sand forest (n=1006, S=154) and mixed woodland (n=673, S=160). Assemblages of the two sand forests were more similar than to the mixed woodland assemblage. Active hunting species were indicators of the more open vegetation of elephant disturbed sand forest (six active hunters, no web-builders) and mixed woodland (ten active hunters, one web-builder), whereas web-builders are indicators of the dense, complex vegetation structure of undisturbed sand forest (six web-builders, three active hunters). Elephant-induced changes to the vegetation structure in this high diversity, high endemism region result in changes in the composition of spider assemblages, and may need to be mitigated by management intervention.