Body size determines the outcome of competition for webs among alien and native sheetweb spiders (Araneae: Linyphiidae).
Biotic invasions are one of the most important reasons for changes in biodiversity. The alien sheetweb spider Mermessus trilobatus (Araneae: Linyphiidae) has become abundant in large parts of Central Europe within the past three decades. Its invasion might negatively influence native spiders, for instance via competition for webs. Laboratory experiments were developed to test if M. trilobatus is competitively superior to native spiders. The alien M. trilobatus and five native sheetweb spiders (Erigone dentipalpis, E. atra, Gnathonarium dentatum, Dicymbium nigrum and Micrargus herbigradus) were compared with respect to their success to take over occupied webs from E. dentipalpis. The rate of web takeover or defence was determined by body size, whereby individuals with a wider thorax invaded webs more successfully. After taking body size into account, the frequency of defence or web takeover did not differ between species. In 13% of all confrontations, predation against generally smaller opponents was recorded. Contrary to the predictions, raising the web value with food resources did not raise the effort expended on web defence but reduced predation by the web owner. The current study does not indicate that the invasion of the relatively small-sized M. trilobatus is facilitated by strong competitiveness. Nevertheless, M. trilobatus may displace smaller-sized immature specimens and thereby threaten native spiders. Still, other reasons are likely to underlie the success of M. trilobatus in Europe, such as rapid reproduction or release from natural enemies.