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Selection might favor group foraging and social feeding when prey are distributed in patches that do not last long enough for a solitary individual to consume more than a small fraction of them (Pulliam and Millikan 1982; Pulliam and Caraco 1984). Here we considered the foraging behavior of a social spider, Anelosimus eximius, in light of this ephemeral resource hypothesis. This species builds large webs in which members cooperate to capture a wide variety of different sizes and types of prey, many of which are very large. The capture success of this species was very high across all prey sizes, presumably due to the fact that they foraged in groups. Group consumption times in natural colonies for all prey larger than five mm were less than the time that dead insects remained on the plastic sheets that we used as artificial webs. Solitary consumption estimates, calculated from the rate at which laboratory individuals extracted insect biomass while feeding, were the same as the residence times of insects on artificial webs in the field for insects between 6 and 15 mm in length and were significantly longer than the persistence of insects on plastic sheets for all larger insects. Large prey, that contribute substantially to colony energy supplies, appeared to be ephemeral resources for these spiders that could not be consumed by a single spider in the time they were available. These factors made the food intake of one spider in a group less sensitive to scavenging by others and could act to reinforce the social system of this species.
Oecologia © 1991 Springer