, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 419-433

The Combined Effects of Pre- and Post-Insemination Sexual Selection on Extreme Variation in Male Body Size

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Orb-weaving spiders of the genus Nephila are notable for their sexual size dimorphism, with dwarf males and giant females. However, less well known is the extreme size polymorphism of males that is characteristic of some species. For example, adult male body size in N. edulis varies by an order of magnitude. Previous experiments reveal that male mating behaviour covaries with body size, suggesting the size variation is maintained by opposing pre- and post-insemination sexual selection pressures. Here, we test this idea by allowing males of different sizes to compete directly and simultaneously for access to females. Using the sterile-male technique for paternity assessment, we show that two competing males drawn from the extremes of size variations, split paternity the same way as two males of the same size drawn from the intermediate sizes. The paternity of a large male dropped from 50% to 30% on average if he competed against two instead of one small male. The large male increased his mating frequency when there were more rivals but required a much lower total duration of copulation to achieve the same paternity share. These data are consistent with the idea that opposing pre- and post-insemination selection pressures at least partly explain the variation in male body size.