Predatory Spiders in the Arctic Food Web 2013

What Are They Doing?

Female Wolf Spider, AlaskaFemale Wolf Spider, Alaska The Arctic is warming faster than any other biome on the planet, which makes it critically important to understand the influence of warming on ecosystem processes in this region. While arctic species are all well adapted to living in extreme environments, it is unclear how different species will respond to the environmental shifts that accompany climate change (e.g. longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures). Stronger responses by some species within a community could lead to changes in the structure of the food web and its role in arctic ecosystems. 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.

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 function of food webs. In particular, arctic warming could increase decomposition of the large amounts of carbon stored in permafrost soils. Increased decomposition would result in higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane, which are heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Potential shifts in spider feeding ecology as a result of climate change could therefore have important and far-reaching consequences for arctic plant community dynamics and ecosystem processes. This research examined the extent to which arctic wolf spiders influence the structure and function of food webs and measured whether their impact on the community is changing with warming.

Where Are They?

Tundra boardwalk at Toolik Field Station, AlaskaTundra boardwalk at Toolik Field Station, Alaska The research team flew to Fairbanks, Alaska and from there drove north to Toolik Field Station, in the 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.


A flurry of goodbyes It seems so long ago that I said goodbye to Toolik (well, it was a month ago, so I guess it was a while ago…sorry), yet I can still recall with amazing clarity almost every day I was there. Not only did I make some lasting friendships, but I also learned so much that I want to share with my students. One of the most common thing that people at Toolik said to me was “I wish that my teacher had done something like this when I was in school.” The primary goal of my involvement with PolarTREC has always been to bring my experiences back to my classroom, but hearing all...
That's All, Folks...
3 Years in the Making When I accepted the post as PolarTREC teacher to scientist extraordinaire Amanda Koltz, I didn’t realize that this would be her last field season before publishing her dissertation. Amanda began her field research on the Arctic Wolf Spider about 3 years ago, and has returned to Toolik every summer since collecting data. Not only is Amanda ending her research on wolf spiders, arctic food webs and their connection to climate change, but she is also ending her time on the Alaskan tundra. I can only imagine how difficult this must be for her – I was only there for 1...
Parasites – the ultimate lifestyle choice As mentioned in a previous journal, every organism has a place in the complex food webs of life – be it an autotroph, heterotroph (that’s us, unless some human has mutated and can now photosynthesize), or decomposer. Ecosystems have other relationships beyond feeding ones, sometimes referred to as symbiotic relationships. Some of these you’ve heard of – like the mutualistic relationship between the anemone and the clown fish (think of Finding Nemo) and some of these you haven’t – like the commensalistic relationship between cattle and cattle egrets...
Just What do Spiders Eat? In a previous journal, I mentioned that the wolf spider is a generalist predator that feeds on detritivores in the soil. There are many different organisms that fall under the category of “detritivore,” but by far the cutest (that’s right, I said cutest) are the collembolans. Slugs – not cute. Collembolans? Cute. I mean honestly. How cute is this guy? Image from Collecting Collembolans Collembolans are small. REALLY small. Sometimes you can see them walking around the soil, but generally you can’t unless you look very closely – they are...
Berlesing means buckets…lots and lots of buckets. In my last post, I explained how soil samples were taken from the tundra. The samples were cut out of each of our plots (with a bread knife) then sectioned into surface and below ground pieces, packed in a Ziploc and carted back to our lab in our packs. We had 60 samples, and most were water logged – let’s just say they weren’t light. Amanda cuts a sample into the “green” surface layer and the “brown” below ground layer. Each layer gets put in its own Ziploc bag. Each sample is wrapped in cheese cloth before it is put in the bag....

Expedition Resources

Project Information

27 June 2013 to 3 August 2013
Location: Toolik Field Station, Alaska
Project Funded Title: The influence of wolf spiders on the structure and function of food webs in the Arctic.

Meet the Team

Nell Kemp's picture
Lindblom Math & Science Academy
Chicago, IL
United States

Nell Kemp is a middle school life science teacher at Lindblom Math & Science Academy in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Ms. Kemp has a bachelor's degree in behavioral neuroscience from Lehigh University and a master's degree in education from DePaul University. The enthusiasm and creativity of the middle grades is one of the most rewarding aspects of her job, but also the most challenging. Students of this age group tend to have trouble thinking independently, so Ms. Kemp pushes students to participate in project-based learning activities and inquiry investigations.

This is Ms. Kemp’s second expedition with PolarTREC, having previously worked with Dr. Amanda Koltz studying the role of predatory spiders in high Arctic food webs. Just like last time, she anticipates that her experience with PolarTREC will show her students that "real" scientists complete their work in much the same way as they do, collecting evidence to support their initial research questions and hypotheses. Ms. Kemp’s goal on this expedition is to expose her students to accredited scientific research and researchers, and help them to recognize that they are capable of becoming the next generation of scientists themselves. Oh…and also to see that there is more to the Polar Regions than reindeer and polar bears…and Santa Claus.

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.

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