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Journal: Die Naturwissenschaften


Spiders have been suspected to be one of the most important groups of natural enemies of insects worldwide. To document the impact of the global spider community as insect predators, we present estimates of the biomass of annually killed insect prey. Our estimates assessed with two different methods suggest that the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800 million metric tons (fresh weight), with insects and collembolans composing >90% of the captured prey. This equals approximately 1‰ of the global terrestrial net primary production. Spiders associated with forests and grasslands account for >95% of the annual prey kill of the global spider community, whereas spiders in other habitats are rather insignificant contributors over a full year. The spider communities associated with annual crops contribute less than 2% to the global annual prey kill. This, however, can be partly explained by the fact that annual crop fields are “disturbed habitats” with a low buildup of spider biomass and that agrobiont spiders often only kill prey over short time periods in a year. Our estimates are supported by the published results of exclusion experiments, showing that the number of herbivorous/detritivorous insects and collembolans increased significantly after spider removal from experimental plots. The presented estimates of the global annual prey kill and the relative contribution of spider predation in different biomes improve the general understanding of spider ecology and provide a first assessment of the global impact of this very important predator group.

Concepts: Insect, Arthropod, Predation, Ecology, Lion, Biological pest control, Aposematism, Spider


We describe leg bones of a giant penguin from the mid-Paleocene Waipara Greensand of New Zealand. The specimens were found at the type locality of Waimanu manneringi and together with this species they constitute the oldest penguin fossils known to date. Tarsometatarsus dimensions indicate a species that reached the size of Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi, one of the largest known penguin species. Stem group penguins therefore attained a giant size very early in their evolution, with this gigantism existing for more than 30 million years. The new fossils are from a species that is phylogenetically more derived than Waimanu, and the unexpected coexistence of Waimanu with more derived stem group Sphenisciformes documents a previously unknown diversity amongst the world’s oldest penguins. The characteristic tarsometatarsus shape of penguins evolved early on, and the significant morphological disparity between Waimanu and the new fossil conflicts with recent Paleocene divergence estimates for penguins, suggesting an older, Late Cretaceous, origin.

Concepts: Evolution, Phylogenetics, Penguin, Antarctica, Dinosaur, Waimanu, Sphenisciformes, Anthropornis


The glue-coated and wet capture spiral of the orb web of the garden cross spider Araneus diadematus is suspended between the dry silk radial and web frame threads. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that the capture spiral is electrically conductive because of necks of liquid connecting the droplets even if the thread is stretched. We examine how this conductivity of the capture spiral may lead to entrapment of charged airborne particles such as pollen, spray droplets and even insects. We further describe and model how the conducting spiral will also locally distort the Earth’s ambient electric field. Finally, we examine the hypothesis that such distortion could be used by potential prey to detect the presence of a web but conclude that any effect would probably be too small to allow an insect to take evasive action.

Concepts: Electric charge, Electricity, Insect, Electrical conductor, Electrical conductivity, Spider, European garden spider, Araneus


Patterns of pigmentation overlying the petal vasculature are common in flowering plants and have been postulated to play a role in pollinator attraction. Previous studies report that such venation patterning is significantly more attractive to bee foragers in the field than ivory or white flowers without veins. To dissect the ways in which venation patterning of pigment can influence bumblebee behaviour, we investigated the response of flower-naïve individuals of Bombus terrestris to veined, ivory and red near-isogenic lines of Antirrhinum majus. We find that red venation shifts flower colour slightly, although the ivory background is the dominant colour. Bees were readily able to discriminate between ivory and veined flowers under differential conditioning but showed no innate preference when presented with a free choice of rewarding ivory and veined flowers. In contrast, both ivory and veined flowers were selected significantly more often than were red flowers. We conclude that advantages conferred by venation patterning might stem from bees learning of their use as nectar guides, rather than from any innate preference for striped flowers.

Concepts: Honey bee, Pollination, White, Flower, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Dromaeosaurids from the Maastrichtian of North America have a poor fossil record and are known largely from isolated teeth, which have typically been referred to taxa based on more complete material from earlier Campanian strata. An almost complete maxilla with well-preserved dentition and an associated dentary from the Hell Creek Formation of Montana are used to establish a new dromaeosaurid taxon in the latest Maastrichtian, immediately prior to the end-Cretaceous extinction event. Acheroraptor temertyorum gen. et sp. nov. is differentiated from other dromaeosaurids on the basis of a hypertrophied postantral wall that projects posteriorly into the antorbital fenestra, a maxillary fenestra positioned low in the antorbital fossa and directly posterior to the promaxillary fenestra, and distinctive dentition with marked apicobasal ridges. The new material allows a dromaeosaurid from the Maastrichtian of North America to be placed within a phylogenetic framework for the first time. Phylogenetic analysis suggests Acheroraptor is a velociraptorine that is more closely related to Asian dromaeosaurids, including Tsaagan and Velociraptor, than it is to Dromaeosaurus, Saurornitholestes, or any other taxon from North America. As part of the Lancian Tyrannosaurus-Triceratops fauna, A. temertyorum is the latest occurring dromaeosaurid. Its relationships and occurrence suggest a complex historical biogeographic scenario that involved multiple, bi-directional faunal interchanges between Asia and North America during the Late Cretaceous.

Concepts: Cretaceous, Dinosaur, Theropoda, Dromaeosauridae, Maastrichtian, Velociraptor, Deinonychus, Campanian


The Caribbean is highly vulnerable to coastal hazards. Based on their short recurrence intervals over the intra-American seas, high-category tropical cyclones and their associated effects of elevated storm surge, heavy wave impacts, mudslides and floods represent the most serious threat. Given the abundance of historical accounts and trigger mechanisms (strike-slip motion and oblique collision at the northern and southern Caribbean plate boundaries, submarine and coastal landslides, volcanism), tsunamis must be considered as well. This paper presents interdisciplinary multi-proxy investigations of sediment cores (grain size distribution, carbonate content, loss-on-ignition, magnetic susceptibility, microfauna, macrofauna) from Washington-Slagbaai National Park, NW Bonaire (Leeward Antilles). No historical tsunami is recorded for this island. However, an allochthonous marine layer found in all cores at Boka Bartol reveals several sedimentary criteria typically linked with tsunami deposits. Calibrated (14)C data from these cores point to a palaeotsunami with a maximum age of 3,300 years. Alternative explanations for the creation of this layer, such as inland flooding during tropical cyclones, cannot entirely be ruled out, though in recent times even the strongest of these events on Bonaire did not deposit significant amounts of sediment onshore. The setting of Boka Bartol changed from an open mangrove-fringed embayment into a poly- to hyperhaline lagoon due to the establishment or closure of a barrier of coral rubble during or subsequent to the inferred event. The timing of the event is supported by further sedimentary evidence from other lagoonal and alluvial archives on Bonaire.

Concepts: Sedimentary rock, Geology, Tropical cyclone, Caribbean, Flood, Lesser Antilles, Leeward Antilles, Netherlands Antilles


Attributing a season and a date to the volcanic eruption of Santorini in the Aegean has become possible by using preserved remains of the bean weevil, Bruchus rufipes, pests of pulses, from the storage jars of the West House, in the Bronze Age settlement at Akrotiri. We have applied an improved pre-treatment methodology for dating the charred insects, and this provides a date of 1744-1538 BC. This date is within the range of others obtained from pulses from the same context and confirms the utility of chitin as a dating material. Based on the nature of the insect material and the life cycle of the species involved, we argue for a summer eruption, which took place after harvest, shortly after this material was transported into the West House storeroom.

Concepts: Insect, Ancient Egypt, Volcano, Minoan civilization, Bronze Age, Santorini, Cyclades, Mycenaean Greece


We analysed, for the first time, songs of the African Red-winged Starling Onychognathus morio and compared their general characteristics with those of the European Starling Sturnus vulgaris. Both species are gregarious during the non-breeding season, but European Starlings tend to nest in colonies, form unstable pair-bonds and are occasionally polygynous, whereas Red-winged Starlings form long-term pair-bonds and occupy exclusive nesting territories. Red-winged Starlings produced the same basic song categories as European Starlings: warbles and whistles. These two categories appeared to be involved in similar social interactions in the two species. However, several aspects of song behaviour differed between the two species: Red-winged Starlings, breeding in isolated nests, preferentially used whistles for long-distance communication and showed a simpler organization of warbling song. Whistles in the Red-winged Starling were mostly shared between birds and, in contrast to the European Starling, were not indicators of individual identity. Also in contrast to the European Starling, female song in Red-winged Starlings appeared very important throughout the breeding period. Our results suggest that some song characteristics in the two species are phylogenetically conserved whereas others are affected by the distinct social systems of the two species.

Concepts: Sociology, Bird, European Starling, Starling, Common Myna, Onychognathus, Red-winged Starling, Sturnidae


The coelacanth Latimeria is the only extant representative of the Actinistia, a group of sarcopterygian fishes that originated in the Devonian. Moreover, it is the only extant vertebrate in which the neurocranium is divided into an anterior and a posterior portion that articulate by means of an intracranial joint. This joint is thought to be highly mobile, allowing an elevation of the anterior portion of the skull during prey capture. Here we provide a new description of the skull and jaw-closing system in Latimeria chalumnae in order to better understand its skull mechanics during prey capture. Based on a dissection and the CT scanning of an adult coelacanth, we provide a detailed description of the musculature and ligaments of the jaw system. We show that the m. adductor mandibulae is more complex than previously reported. We demonstrate that the basicranial muscle inserts more anteriorly than has been described previously, which has implications for its function. Moreover, the anterior insertion of the basicranial muscle does not correspond to the posterior tip of the tooth plate covering the parasphenoid, questioning previous inferences made on fossil coelacanths and other sarcopterygian fishes. Strong ligaments connect the anterior and the posterior portions of the skull at the level of the intracranial joint, as well as the notochord and the catazygals. These observations suggest that the intracranial joint is likely to be less mobile than previously thought and that its role during feeding merits to be reexamined.

Concepts: Bone, Fish, Vertebrate, Sarcopterygii, Tetrapod, Fossil, Coelacanth, Latimeria


Morphological symmetry is a correlate of fitness-related traits or even a direct target of mate choice in a variety of taxa. In these taxa, when females discriminate among potential mates, increased selection on males should reduce fluctuating asymmetry (FA). Hybrid populations of the swordtails Xiphophorus birchmanni and Xiphophorus malinche vary from panmictic (unstructured) to highly structured, in which reproductive isolation is maintained among hybrids and parental species. We predicted that FA in flanking vertical bars used in sexual signalling should be lower in structured populations, where non-random mating patterns are observed. FA in vertical bars was markedly lower in structured populations than in parental and unstructured hybrid populations. There was no difference in FA between parentals and hybrids, suggesting that hybridisation does not directly affect FA. Rather, variation in FA likely results from contrasting mating patterns in unstructured and structured populations.

Concepts: Natural selection, Reproduction, Gender, Sex, Asymmetry, Green swordtail, Xiphophorus, Southern platyfish