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It has been suggested that physical interactions between biological and environmental surfaces may constrain ecological niche spaces. However, the mechanistic understanding of niche formation is frequently limited by the lack of information on the function and variation of these interactions. Here, we hypothesised that two closely related species of orb-web spiders have evolved different adhesion performance of web attachment (i.e. piriform silk) facilitating the occupation of contrasting microhabitats: plants versus rocks. Contrary to our prediction, we found that piriform silk adhesion was equally affected by surface chemistry in both species, with maximal adhesion on surfaces with high surface polarity and an average adhesion loss of 70–75% on low polar surfaces. Spiders did not respond to adhesion losses by increasing the anchor size, despite the repeated failure to attach their web to low polar surfaces. In a natural setting, poor adhesion on low polar surfaces may be mitigated by behavioural means, like the preference to place anchors on corrugated surface features such as leaf edges, or the spinning of multiple anchorages and formation of a bundled anchor line. Thus, microhabitat choice for web-building spiders may be governed by structural properties rather than surface chemistry. These results suggest that the repeatedly demonstrated effects of surface chemistry on bio-adhesion may be ecologically less important than assumed and that the role of behaviour in the evolution of bio-adhesion performance has been underestimated.
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- Spider silk
- Spider web
- Piriform silk
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