Climate Change, Extreme Temperatures and Sex-Related Responses in Spiders

Jeffrey A. Harvey* (Corresponding author), Yuting Dong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Simple Summary
Anthropogenic climate change is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. Extreme temperature events associated with longer-term climate change are increasing in frequency, duration and intensity. The effects of climatic extremes on ectotherms, such as insects, have been well-studied in recent years. However, the effects of extreme temperatures on other arthropod groups, such as spiders, has received much less attention. Spiders are important organisms as predators in natural and agricultural ecosystems. In this paper, we describe spider responses to extreme temperatures and highlight the most important knowledge gaps that urgently need to be filled to better understand how vulnerable spiders are to climate change and climatic extremes. Unlike insects, traits such as body size and niche breadth may differ markedly in male and female spiders. Therefore, we argue that research needs to address the effects of heat exposure on the physiology, behavior and ecology of male and female spiders across multiple taxa. Observed declines in some terrestrial insects have been widely reported in recent years, with climate change, along with other anthropogenic threats, being implicated. Longer-term data on trends in spider abundance, where available, may also shed possible light on the role of climate change.

Climatic extremes, such as heat waves, are increasing in frequency, intensity and duration under anthropogenic climate change. These extreme events pose a great threat to many organisms, and especially ectotherms, which are susceptible to high temperatures. In nature, many ectotherms, such as insects, may seek cooler microclimates and ’ride out´ extreme temperatures, especially when these are transient and unpredictable. However, some ectotherms, such as web-building spiders, may be more prone to heat-related mortality than more motile organisms. Adult females in many spider families are sedentary and build webs in micro-habitats where they spend their entire lives. Under extreme heat, they may be limited in their ability to move vertically or horizontally to find cooler microhabitats. Males, on the other hand, are often nomadic, have broader spatial distributions, and thus might be better able to escape exposure to heat. However, life-history traits in spiders such as the relative body size of males and females and spatial ecology also vary across different taxonomic groups based on their phylogeny. This may make different species or families more or less susceptible to heat waves and exposure to very high temperatures. Selection to extreme temperatures may drive adaptive responses in female physiology, morphology or web site selection in species that build small or exposed webs. Male spiders may be better able to avoid heat-related stress than females by seeking refuge under objects such as bark or rocks with cooler microclimates. Here, we discuss these aspects in detail and propose research focusing on male and female spider behavior and reproduction across different taxa exposed to temperature extremes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number615
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2023

Research theme

  • Climate change
  • Biodiversity


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