The team at Rothamsted Research, a sponsored institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), realised that the existing 20 year old models to explain this phenomenon – known as ‘ballooning’ – failed to adequately deal with anything other than perfectly still air. Called Humphrey’s model it made assumptions that the spider silk was rigid and straight and the spiders were just blobs hanging on the bottom. It could not explain why spiders were able to travel long distances over water, to colonise new volcanic islands or why they were found on ships. The new Rothamsted mathematical model allows for elasticity and flexibility of a ballooning spider’s dragline – and when a dragline is caught in turbulent air the model shows how it can become highly contorted, preventing the spider from controlling the distance it travels and propelling it over potentially epic distances.
Dr Andy Reynolds, one of the scientists at Rothamsted Research, explained: “Researchers knew that spiders could use ballooning to cover long distances but no previous model has adequately explained how this worked. By factoring in the flexibility of the dragline that the spiders cast into the breeze have shown how it can contort and twist with turbulence, affecting its aerodynamic properties and carrying its rider unpredictable distances. Spiders are key predators of insects and can alleviate the need for farmers to spray large quantities of pesticide. But they can only perform this function in the ecosystem if they arrive at the right time. With our mathematical model we can start to examine how human activity, such as farming, affects the dispersal of spider populations.”
Dr Dave Bohan, a member of the research team, commented on how mathematical models and traditional bioscience observation come together: “To really understand the factors at play on ballooning spiders we need to watch them in action. We have already observed spiders ballooning through still air and we are now planning to take them into a wind tunnel to watch how they handle turbulent flows. Once we have done that we can refine the model further.”
Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of BBSRC, the organisation which funded the project, said: “The exciting thing about this research is that it not only explains a long-standing question but also shows how ecologists, mathematicians and physical scientists can draw on each others strengths. The future face of bioscience is highly interdisciplinary and will require more collaboration between, for example, mathematicians and ecologists working together to answer biological questions.”
Matt Goode | alfa
Global threat to primates concerns us all
19.01.2017 | Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung
Reducing household waste with less energy
18.01.2017 | FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz-Institut für Informationsinfrastruktur GmbH
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences