Landuse Change in Savannas Disproportionately Reduces Functional Diversity of Invertebrate Predators at the Highest Trophic Levels: Spiders as an Example
Predators play a disproportionately positive role in ensuring integrity of food webs, influencing ecological processes and services upon which humans rely. Predators tend to be amongst the first species to be affected by anthropogenic disturbance, however. Spiders impact invertebrate population dynamics and stabilise food webs in natural and agricultural systems (potentially mitigating against crop pests and reduced yields). Africa’s savannas are undergoing continent-wide conversion from low-density rangelands to villages and croplands, as human populations burgeon. Despite limited research, and evidence of deleterious impacts to biodiversity, African savannas are earmarked by prominent international organisations for conversion to cropland. Given the key role of spiders in food webs, they can have beneficial impacts in agroecosystems. Furthermore, functional diversity (FD) reflects ecosystem pattern and processes better than species diversity, so we evaluated impacts of large-scale landuse change on both species richness and FD. We surveyed spiders using pitfall traps at 42 sites (14 replicates each in rangeland, cropland, and villages) in South African savannas, investigating effects of landuse, season, and habitat variables on spider species diversity and FD. Species richness was lowest in villages. FD was lowest in cropland, however, with reduced representation of traits associated with hunting of larger invertebrates. Furthermore, there were fewer specialists in croplands. These findings suggest that even when cropland does not impact species diversity, loss of FD can still occur. As savanna systems transform, impacts on invertebrate population dynamics may increase the possibility of a breakdown in pest control in natural and agricultural systems, given changes in FD of invertebrate predators.
Keywordsagriculture cropland epigaeic spider species food security food web functional diversity functional traits pest control
We thank the NRF and Department of Science &Technology through the South African Research Chairs Initiative Chair on Biodiversity Value and Change in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, hosted by the University of Venda. This project was supported by the German Federal Government, BMBF (SPACES programme: Limpopo Living Landscapes Project). We thank the editors and two anonymous reviewers for comments that improved this manuscript.
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