Farmer wants a spider

In 2022 the ABG, alongside the La Trobe Research Centre for Future Landscapes and their Farm-scale Natural Capital project, began work on a new research project investigating the relationship between the composition of farmland habitat and the assemblage of ground active spiders. Agricultural landscapes form the world’s largest terrestrial ecosystem and occupy 55% of Australia’s land use predominantly through grazing country. Ground active spiders are significant invertebrate predators in many ecosystems providing a range of services such as regulating insect biomass and pest control. Their susceptibility to disturbance regimes has also lent them to be utilised as bioindicators for habitat health and management decisions. A myriad of research has shown the value of habitat refuges for invertebrate populations in crop fields. Considering the recent uptake in novel farming practices such as holistic or regenerative agriculture that focus heavily on different disturbance schemes, it is important to understand the characteristics of these refuges in grazing paddocks and the abundance, diversity and distribution of ground active spiders. September marked the arrival of spring and kicked off the projects first field trip. Across east NSW we travelled between participating farms laying pitfall lines as we went. Constructed of garden edging and small buckets, the edging redirects the spider’s path into the buckets for collection. Pitfall lines were set up in paddocks along different adjacent habitat types from beautiful old remnant strips, budding revegetation patches and areas of continuous pasture.

Satellite imagery was used to scope out patches of refuge habitat, but on the ground with inundated paddocks and only rough photos of canopies to direct us the farm owners and managers became invaluable. They not only provided us with welcome conversation and birding advice, but often directed us to perfectly appropriate site locations. All three of the farms we visited were nestled adjacent to the Great Dividing Range, resulting in stunning rolling hills and hidden natural treasures such as the mystical remnant stream pictured above.

While the new season brought significant rain it was not however short on spiders. The traps worked and the samples kept crawling (read: swimming) in. Amongst the arthropods, of which the wolf spiders of Lycosidae featured heavily, we also caught a range of other invertebrate specimens such as various millipedes, crickets, ants and beetles. Now loaded with preserved samples and a honed methodology, we prepare for the next trip in mid-October….

Research assistant prepping the garden edging.