Prey to predator body size ratio in the evolution of cooperative hunting—a social spider test case

  • Lena Grinsted
  • Mads F. Schou
  • Virginia Settepani
  • Christina Holm
  • Tharina L. Bird
  • Trine BildeEmail author
Original Article


One of the benefits of cooperative hunting may be that predators can subdue larger prey. In spiders, cooperative, social species can capture prey many times larger than an individual predator. However, we propose that cooperative prey capture does not have to be associated with larger caught prey per se, but with an increase in the ratio of prey to predator body size. This can be achieved either by catching larger prey while keeping predator body size constant, or by evolving a smaller predator body size while maintaining capture of large prey. We show that within a genus of relatively large spiders, Stegodyphus, subsocial spiders representing the ancestral state of social species are capable of catching the largest prey available in the environment. Hence, within this genus, the evolution of cooperation would not provide access to otherwise inaccessible, large prey. Instead, we show that social Stegodyphus spiders are smaller than their subsocial counterparts, while catching similar sized prey, leading to the predicted increase in prey-predator size ratio with sociality. We further show that in a genus of small spiders, Anelosimus, the level of sociality is associated with an increased size of prey caught while predator size is unaffected by sociality, leading to a similar, predicted increase in prey-predator size ratio. In summary, we find support for our proposed ‘prey to predator size ratio hypothesis’ and discuss how relaxed selection on large body size in the evolution of social, cooperative living may provide adaptive benefits for ancestrally relatively large predators.


Social evolution Group living Phenotypic plasticity Predator-prey interactions Dietary niche 



We would like to thank Y. Lubin, C. Tuni, M. Majer, I. Musli, I. Hoffman, L. L. Chobolo and G. M. Dintwe for help collecting field data. We thank the Schoeman family in Namibia, the Agastya International Foundation and R. Balakrishnan in India, and Y. Lubin in Israel for additional help and hosting. We also thank I. Agnarsson and J. Bechsgaard for providing us with phylogenies.

Funding information

L.G. was supported by The Leverhulme Trust (Early Career Fellowship: ECF-2016-080). C.H. was supported by the European Research Council (ERC StG-2011-282163 awarded to T.B.). Field work was carried out with financing from Drylands Research SSA grant awarded to C.H. (EC contract number: 026064).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesRoyal Holloway University of LondonSurreyUK
  2. 2.Department of BiologyLund UniversityLundSweden
  3. 3.Department of BiologyAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark
  4. 4.Department of Biological Sciences and BiotechnologyBotswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST)PalapyeBotswana

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