High-performance spider webs: Integrating biomechanics, ecology and behaviour

Aaron M T Harmer, Todd A. Blackledge, Joshua S. Madin, Marie E. Herberstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Spider silks exhibit remarkable properties, surpassing most natural and synthetic materials in both strength and toughness. Orb-web spider dragline silk is the focus of intense research by material scientists attempting to mimic these naturally produced fibres. However, biomechanical research on spider silks is often removed from the context of web ecology and spider foraging behaviour. Similarly, evolutionary and ecological research on spiders rarely considers the significance of silk properties. Here, we highlight the critical need to integrate biomechanical and ecological perspectives on spider silks to generate a better understanding of (i) how silk biomechanics and web architectures interacted to influence spider web evolution along different structural pathways, and (ii) how silks function in an ecological context, which may identify novel silk applications. An integrative, mechanistic approach to understanding silk and web function, as well as the selective pressures driving their evolution, will help uncover the potential impacts of environmental change and species invasions (of both spiders and prey) on spider success. Integrating these fields will also allow us to take advantage of the remarkable properties of spider silks, expanding the range of possible silk applications from single threads to two- and three-dimensional thread networks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-471
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number57
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2011

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