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Photo of Fritz Vollrath FRITZ VOLLRATH

Fritz Vollrath recognises that the webs of spiders provide a unique example of animal structure where the various parameters can be dissected that are responsible for the final design whether they lie in the ecology, behaviour or morphology of the web.

Fritz Vollrath and his co-workers use experimental perturbation of the behaviour in combination with computer simulations, and examine the ecology and prey capture-efficiency of webs in distinct, wild populations. They collect and analyse webs and silks in a large variety of biotopes and under a variety of experimental conditions, breed spiders for web characteristics, measure silk mechanics and simulate web architecture, analyse silk chemistry using solid state NMR, and model the various possible pathways of the evolution of the web-building algorithm and web silk.

Fritz explores questions about webs based on the following ideas:
  1. The translation during evolution of an orb spider's set of web-building decision rules into web structure (this involves collaborative work with the Artificial Intelligence Computer Laboratory, Aarhus, and the Parallel Processing Computer Laboratory, Oxford);

  2. The selective value and ecological significance of these rules in nature (collaboration with the Aarhus Ecology Laboratory);

  3. The inheritance of these rules and their norm of reaction;

  4. The importance of web diversity for spider diversity;

  5. The engineering of the web;

  6. The biomechanics of spider silk (collaborating with the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford) and its biochemistry (collaborating with the Physical Chemistry Laboratory, Nijmegen); and finally

  7. The evolution of spider webs and other animal structures.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.