Predatory Spiders in the Arctic Food Web


Archived PolarConnect Events

Nick and Amanda held two successful events – one or teachers, and one for students and the public. The events are available in the PolarConnect Archives.

What Are They Doing?

Wolf SpiderWolf Spider While arctic species are all well adapted to living in extreme environments, it is unclear whether different species will respond similarly or differently to the environmental shifts that accompany climate change (e.g. longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures). Stronger responses by some species within a community, or strong responses by certain species groups, could lead to changes in the structure of the food web and its role in arctic ecosystems.

For example, In the Alaskan Arctic, wolf spiders are the largest and most abundant invertebrate predators. A shift in their ecological role could therefore have an important impact on the entire food web. Evidence from Arctic Greenland shows that wolf spider body sizes are becoming larger in response to longer growing seasons. These increases in body size will likely lead to larger spider populations, which could imply an increase in predation on the rest of the community.

This project explored the role of wolf spiders within arctic communities and specifically, whether climate change is stimulating changes in these predators that could influence the structure and functions of arctic food webs. The research team used a variety of methods to examine the impact of wolf spiders, including sampling spiders from various locations around Toolik Lake and carrying out a manipulative experiment that looked at the entire food web.

Where Are They?

Stream near Toolik Lake, AlaskaStream near Toolik Lake, Alaska The research team lived and worked out of Toolik Field Station, located in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska. Toolik Field Station is operated by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has hosted hundreds of researchers and students every year since 1975.

Expedition Map


Caribou Antlers
Return to Civilization Today's walk from my tent to the dining hall was different than it had been the previous 45 mornings. I took one last look at my surroundings and marveled at how after such a long period I still had the same level of appreciation and wonder that I did when we arrived back in early June. I loaded my bags on the truck and ran in to grab a quick cup of coffee and say some final goodbyes. It was sad to see our friends gathered on the steps of the dining hall as we pulled away and began our long drive back to civilization. The wide-open landscape of Toolik Field Station...
Team Spider in Bug Shirts
Today is my last full day in the Arctic. Tomorrow will mark the 46th day I've been north of the Arctic Circle. It's really hard to believe that we've been here for more than 6 weeks already! The constant daylight, combined with an endless amount of things to do (work and play) makes the days run together. I've looked at my watch to determine the day of the week more than I've used it to determine the time of day. I've seen the lake thaw and the last remnants of snow leave the field station. I've seen the plants go from a dormant brown to a bright green, and a very few are showing the...
Harding Icefield
I have not been trampled by a moose or eaten by a bear, I've been traveling throughout the state with limited access to the internet. I left Toolik on July 20, and got wrapped up in the events that surround saying goodbye to an incredible place and my friends. Since then I've traveled to Denali and throughout the Kenai Peninsula. I have had some amazing experiences and met some of the most interesting people! I will be posting journals about my final days at Toolik and my adventures since very shortly. I appreciate the feedback I have been receiving, and am humbled by the number of...
Argentinian Road Trip
"Two anesthesiologists, a surgeon, and a veterinarian from Argentina pull up to a remote field station in Alaska with two flat tires and no windshield. True life, no joke." - Susanna Michael, Smith College On one of my last days in the field, I want to go back to an earlier event (July 10) that captures some of the essence of Toolik's character. This is a strange, but incredible place. You never know what you are going to see or hear, and nothing seems outrageous or surprising. During my first week here I heard researcher Mike Weintraub commenting on all of the interesting characters you...
The cold rain has us in the lab today. It feels like the Carolinas in winter. Kiki and Amanda are busy at the microscopes while I get caught up on some writing and video production work. Here is the newest Polar People video featuring Michael Sheriff. Michael is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks. He's also a skilled badminton player, and a Gold Medalist in the Toolik Olympics T-Ball Home Run Derby. You can learn more about his work with Arctic Ground Squirrels in my July 17 journal entry. Michael...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 4 June 2012 to 1 August 2012
Location: Toolik Field Station, Alaska
Project Funded Title: How do climate-induced changes in generalist predators influence the structure and function of food webs in the Arctic?

Meet the Team

Nick LaFave's picture
Clover High School
Clover, SC
United States

Nick LaFave is a National Board Certified Teacher who has been teaching science since 1997. He currently teaches Environmental Science in Clover, South Carolina. Mr. LaFave grew up close to the New York/Canada border between the St. Lawrence River valley and the Adirondack Park. Walking out the door of his childhood home to explore the nearby woods, or fish the river sparked a lifelong passion for learning about nature. Mr. LaFave uses a hands-on approach to teaching Environmental Science. He and his students manage a nearly 100 acre "outdoor classroom" where some of the unique learning opportunities include monitoring fish populations and water quality, studying turtle populations, and raising tilapia to control nuisance plant species. He also encourages his students to be active participants in community service. Outside the classroom, Mr. LaFave spends his time playing hockey, golfing, attempting to play guitar and mandolin, hiking, and camping with his wife (also a teacher) and daughter.

Amanda Koltz's picture
Duke University

Amanda Koltz is a PhD candidate in ecology at Duke University under Dr. Justin Wright. Her research focuses on the relationship between community and ecosystem ecology (e.g. how species interactions can affect key ecosystem processes like decomposition and nutrient cycling). For her dissertation research, she is exploring how climate-induced changes in predatory spiders are influencing the structure and function of food webs in the Arctic. You can learn more about Amanda's research here.