Linking native and invader traits explains native spider population responses to plant invasion.
Theoretically, the functional traits of native species should determine how natives respond to invader-driven changes. To explore this idea, we simulated a large-scale plant invasion using dead spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe) stems to determine if native spiders' web-building behaviors could explain differences in spider population responses to structural changes arising from C. stoebe invasion. After two years, irregular web-spiders were >30 times more abundant and orb weavers were >23 times more abundant on simulated invasion plots compared to controls. Additionally, irregular web-spiders on simulated invasion plots built webs that were 4.4 times larger and 5.0 times more likely to capture prey, leading to >2-fold increases in recruitment. Orb-weavers showed no differences in web size or prey captures between treatments. Web-spider responses to simulated invasion mimicked patterns following natural invasions, confirming that C. stoebe's architecture is likely the primary attribute driving native spider responses to these invasions. Differences in spider responses were attributable to differences in web construction behaviors relative to historic web substrate constraints. Orb-weavers in this system constructed webs between multiple plants, so they were limited by the overall quantity of native substrates but not by the architecture of individual native plant species. Irregular web-spiders built their webs within individual plants and were greatly constrained by the diminutive architecture of native plant substrates, so they were limited both by quantity and quality of native substrates. Evaluating native species traits in the context of invader-driven change can explain invasion outcomes and help to identify factors limiting native populations.