Ecological Advice for the Bewildered – The Bearded Guide to Life

Dear Bearded Guide,

I’m a spider living in the leaf-litter in the Fortuna Forest Reserve. Recently, a lot of researchers came and destroyed my spider-web! First, they sprinkled this white powder that completely ruined my camouflage. Then, they captured me with a giant curved white thing and dropped me into this tunnel where there were other spiders and I could see outside but I couldn’t leave!!! I mean, I didn’t have a house at that point, but they didn’t need to capture me, did they? And to top things off, they dropped me somewhere I don’t even recognize!! Do you know who should I complain to? I feel my spider rights have been violated in several levels.

Homeless and lost in a Panamanian forest

Dear H&L,

It appears that what happened to you that day is that a bunch of students from the BESS/IGERT course had to do a mini-project regarding your housing preferences and competition with your brethren. They were just trying to determine if you had any preference for fallen logs depending on the type of spider you are and if you competed for the first-class space you built your spider-web in. That white powder that they sprinkled on you is corn starch, which is used to find you easily because it creates a contrast between the white and the dark-brown of the leaf-litter. After that, they classified you into different types of spider families, depending on the shape of your web.

They did this to know the diversity and density of you and your neighbors within 1 m2. The curved white thing that they used sounds very much like something we call a spoon (which we normally use to eat, but this time they used it to easily scoop you and your web) and then it seems that they dropped you into a plastic cup. I’m sorry that you had to share such a small space with other spiders, but probably they didn’t have many resources to properly relocate you. This brings me to your question of why they had to capture (relocate) you: they were doing it to evaluate if other spiders can use the vacant space you (involuntarily) left. You see, they were only trying to understand why you choose to live there and if others envy your space! Now, let me tell you what happened with their observations: After a full afternoon of looking at what they wrote down in a notebook, they used these fancy machines that calculate stuff for them. They did this by using a program that is called R; it’s a bit complicated, but with enough practice you even start speaking a weird new language that goes with it. Anyways, they analyzed a point map of where your web was in relation to a fallen log and compared it to other spiders within the same area (yes, the other spiders in the cup had been spooned out of their houses as well!). The sad news is that, even though they worked for two days in different areas, they couldn’t find any patterns, so they concluded that being near a log might not be such a desirable place as they thought it would. However, they did see that you prefer places where there is something “tall” (like a seedling, a small plant or even the roots of trees) for you to hang your web. Additionally, they couldn’t find out if other spiders envy where you set out your web (i.e. compete with you for space). It seems that they will have to relocate more spiders in order to properly address this.

I would like to finish by apologizing about the fact that you were relocated against your will and I hope you find a good place to live in peace again. You can file a complain to the Spiders Organized against Unfair Relocation. It may take a while until they process your request, but you will hopefully get some compensation. I hope you understand that sometimes biologists have to destroy things to understand them.

Sincerely,

Your friend, The Bearded Guide to Life

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