, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 255-273

Sexual cannibalism in the fishing spider and a model for the evolution of sexual cannibalism based on genetic constraints

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Abstract

Several hypotheses have been proposed for the evolution of sexual cannibalism by females. Newman and Elgar (1991) suggested that sexual cannibalism prior to mating by virgin female spiders may have evolved as a result of female foraging considerations. According to this model, an adult female's decision to mate or cannibalize a courting male should be based on an assessment of the male's value as a meal versus his value as a mate. The current study provides an empirical test of the assumptions and predictions of this model in the sexually cannibalistic fishing spider. Adult females were subjected to different food treatments, and exposed to adult males in the laboratory. However, only one of the assumptions of the model and none of its five predictions were upheld. We failed to find any effects of female foraging, female mating status, female size, male size or time of the season on females' behaviour towards courting males. Females behaved stereotypically, and many females were left unmated despite numerous mating opportunities. We also demonstrate costs of sexual cannibalism in a natural population. We propose that the act of sexual cannibalism in the fishing spider is non-adaptive, and develop a model for the evolution of premating sexual cannibalism in spiders based on genetic constraints. According to this hypothesis, sexual cannibalism by adult females may have evolved as an indirect result of selection for high and non-discriminate aggression during previous ontogenetic stages. Genetic covariance between different components of aggressive behaviour may constrain the degree to which (1) juvenile and adult aggression and/or (2) aggression towards conspecifics and heterospecifics can vary independently. We briefly review the support for our model, and suggest several critical tests that may be used to assess the assumptions and predictions of the model.