Wolf spiders (Araneae: Lycosidae) are abundant ground predators in cotton fields that can provide important pest management services. These spiders can kill and consume larvae of the cotton bollworm Helicoverpa spp. (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) that survive foraging on Bt cotton and descend from the plant to pupate in the soil. To determine predation frequency by wolf spiders in a Bt cotton field, we indirectly assessed predation using Helicoverpa spp. larvae marked with rabbit immunoglobulin G (IgG; “immunomarking”), and carried out capture-mark-recapture surveys to assess the likelihood of recapturing spiders. A laboratory feeding study with IgG-marked larva demonstrated that IgG is readily detected in spiders for up to 72 h after feeding. Following the release of IgG-marked larvae in a cotton field edge, 2.1% of spiders collected tested positive for the presence of IgG, providing indirect evidence of predation. A capture-mark-recapture survey revealed that spiders had opportunity to encounter IgG-marked larvae released along field edges, but only 6.7% of the spiders were recaptured, likely reflecting high spider mobility. In field feeding arenas, all three commonly encountered wolf spider species (Tasmanicosa leuckartii, Hogna crispipes, Hogna kuyani) ate Helicoverpa spp. larvae. These studies suggest that the low likelihood of spider recapture, and not prey rejection, is the most likely explanation for the low proportion of field-collected spiders testing positive for IgG marked prey remains, and that the frequency of IgG detection in spiders likely underestimated the frequency of predation events. We conclude that use of prey immunomarking together with capture-mark-recapture surveys can provide a powerful tool for assessing the effect of a predator on a prey species under field conditions.
- biological control
- gut content