Understanding a spiders' stomach content shows how they help control pests

On farms, spiders are important predators who control insect populations, including pests that can damage crops. Understanding their role in agricultural ecosystems reveals how they could be used as a biocontrol agent to limit pest populations.

The semi-natural areas that surround farm fields are important sites for spiders and other arthropods. These habitats can provide shelter and alternative food sources for spiders when crop fields might be too harsh to live in because of pesticide use or tilling.

To determine whether spiders are effective at biocontrol, it is crucial to know the diet of these spiders and whether they eat crop pests. The relative size of some insect prey, and the toughness of their exoskeleton, limit spiders' ability to mechanically chew their food, so they eat by liquefying the remains of their prey.

Spiders expel digestive enzymes from their intestinal tract onto their prey to break down body tissues. This makes it difficult for researchers to investigate spider diets. One solution is to analyze the gut contents of spiders using DNA barcoding, a technique that involves sequencing a short, standardized fragment of DNA from a particular gene to identify a species—including any liquefied evidence.

Read more at phys.org

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