The Loh Down On Science

Pitting aggressive spiders against docile ones, on paper

Is the key to a species' long-term survival . . . thugs?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, among some spider species, maybe.

Ecologist Jonathan Pruit studies social spiders that live in communal webs.  Some individuals are docile and coexist peacefully.  Others fight no matter what, and have to stay separated.

Pruit wanted to see which personality type fared better over time.  So, in the lab, he created mating pairs of spiders, some docile, some aggressive, some mixed.  He then placed them in the wild.

As unrelated spider species attacked, aggressive pairs fought to survive, but hardly reproduced.  The pacifists?  Just had lots of beautiful babies.

Early on, docile pairs were having several times more offspring than aggressive or mixed pairs.

But by the study's end, invaders had destroyed all the pacifists and most of the mixed groups. The fighters?  Were almost completely intact.

Pruit says the docile spiders' passiveness results in a short-term reproductive gain but at a long-term survivorship cost.

'Cause life is tough on the web.  Hopefully just with spiders.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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