Communication in complex environments poses challenges of potential loss of intended messages, but some animals may compensate by using multimodal signalling. Courtship displays of male Schizocosa ocreata (Hentz) wolf spiders are multimodal, consisting of visual and seismic signals. The microhabitat of S. ocreata is complex, including leaf litter, wood/bark, soil and rocks. Results from laser vibrometer measurements in the present study indicated that leaf litter transmitted male courtship signals with greater efficacy. Mating success was significantly greater on leaf litter (∼85%) compared to other substrates (∼30%), even though latency to male courtship did not vary among substrates. Given these results, selection should favour spiders that increase their mating potential on nonconducting substrates. We tested whether spiders detect substrate differences in a choice test, and found that when males and females visited all substrates, they spent significantly more time on leaf litter. We isolated courting male spiders on each substrate and scored courtship behaviours to see whether signals varied with substrate. Males used significantly more visual signals (waves and arches) on substrates that attenuated seismic signals (soil and rocks), but other behaviours showed no differences. Taken together, these results suggest that combined visual/seismic components of multimodal displays may serve as ‘backup signals’, ensuring reception under different environmental conditions. Results also suggest that male S. ocreata have the flexibility to compensate for environmental constraints by seeking microhabitats with more effective vibration conduction properties, and/or by increasing visual signals on substrates where seismic communication is less effective.
Gordon SD, Uetz GW. 2011. Multimodal communication of wolf spiders on different substrates: evidence for behavioral flexibility. Animal Behaviour. 81:367-375.