, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 355-362

Sexual cannibalism facilitates genital damage in Argiope lobata (Araneae: Araneidae)

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Sperm competition is a potent driving force in evolution leading to a remarkable variety of male adaptations that prevent or reduce fertilization by rivals. An extraordinary defensive strategy against sperm competition has evolved in a number of web spiders where males break off parts of their paired genitalia in order to obstruct the copulatory openings of females (mating plug). A recent comparative analysis on the family level reports that genital damage is most frequent in species with sexual cannibalism although, as yet, a functional association between sexual cannibalism and genital damage has not been found. Using the moderately sexually cannibalistic orb-web spider Argiope lobata, we show for the first time that males cannibalized during their first copulation damaged their pedipalps with significantly higher probability (74%) than males that escaped (15%). Of all males that damaged their genitalia, 44% were able to place a genital fragment inside the copulatory opening of the female, resulting in a relatively low total plugging rate of 14%. Successful obstruction of the female copulatory opening reduced the share of paternity of subsequent males (P 2 = 0.06%), thus, indicating that genital damage may have evolved as a response to sperm competition in this species as well. However, the low incidence of successful plugging and the strong relationship between sexual cannibalism and genital damage suggest that apart from paternity protection, the nature of genital damage in A. lobata is further shaped by sexual conflict or cryptic female choice.

Communicated by M. Elgar