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The type of leg lost affects habitat use but not survival in a non-regenerating arthropod

Cite this dataset

Escalante, Ignacio; Elias, Damian (2021). The type of leg lost affects habitat use but not survival in a non-regenerating arthropod [Dataset]. Dryad.


Finding shelter and surviving encounters with predators are pervasive challenges for animals. These challenges may be exacerbated after individuals experience bodily damage. Certain forms of damage arise voluntarily in animals, for instance, some taxa release appendages (tails, legs, or other body parts) as a defensive strategy (‘autotomy’). This behavior, however, may pose long-term negative consequences for habitat use and survival. Additionally, these putative consequences are expected to vary according to the function of the lost body part. We tested the effects of losing different functional leg types (locomotor or sensory) on future habitat use and survival in a Neotropical species of Prionostemma harvestmen (Arachnida: Opiliones) that undergo frequent autotomy but do not regrow limbs. Daytime surveys revealed that both eight-legged harvestmen and harvestmen missing legs roosted in similar frequencies across habitats (tree bark, mossy tree, or fern), and perched at similar heights. Mark-recapture data showed that harvestmen that lost sensory legs roosted in tree bark less frequently, but on mossy trees more frequently. On the contrary, we did not observe changes in habitat use for eight-legged animals or animals that lost locomotor legs. This change might be related to sensory exploration and navigation. Lastly, we found that recapture rates across substrates were not affected by the type of legs lost, suggesting that leg loss does not impact survival. This potential lack of effect might play a role in why a defensive strategy like autotomy is so prevalent in harvestmen despite the lack of regeneration.


We surveyed harvestmen of the genus Prionostemma in the pre-montane forest in SW Costa Rica. We also conducted an experiment in which we induced leg loss in different conditions, marked the animals, and surveyed the field site throughout time, to locate the animals and test if leg loss affected survival and/or habitat use.

Usage notes

The Methods section in the manuscript provides the necessary information to replicate and/or re-analyze this dataset.