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Male preferences for nuptial gifts and gift weight loss amongst the nursery web spider, Pisaura mirabilis

Abstract

Sexual signals produced by males are costly. Thus, sexual selection may favour males who are able to minimise these costs, but are still reproductively successful. I investigated male preferences for large and small prey used to produce nuptial gifts, which serve as sexual signals in the nursery web spider, Pisaura mirabilis. Males showed strong preferences for large prey compared to small prey for gift production, which is likely to be more attractive for females and provide males with longer copulation. These preferences were strongest in the presence of female pheromonal cues. Unexpectedly, carrying nuptial gifts did not influence male mobility measured in a 5-min-long behavioural test. Both gifts carried by males and the intact gifts showed similar decreases in mass, suggesting that males did not actively suck the content of the gift. Wrapping the gift with silk did not effectively reduce the gift’s dehydration, meaning that the function of the silk is not to protect the gift’s contents. Males in poor body condition were more likely to feed on the prey before wrapping it. This is consistent with condition dependent signalling, as males in low condition are predicted to feed on the prey as they are not able to pay the cost of gift production. Males preferred large-sized prey for gift production and males in poor body condition reduced the cost of gift production by feeding on the prey, supporting the idea that nuptial feeding is condition dependent.

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Acknowledgments

Two anonymous referees provided extremely helpful and insightful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. David Livingstone improved the English. Jana Fančovičová helped me with collection of spiders. This work was supported by the Slovak Grant Agency VEGA (no. 1/0104/16).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest. The author has no conflict of interest to declare.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not refer to any studies with human participants performed by the author.

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Correspondence to Pavol Prokop.

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Prokop, P. Male preferences for nuptial gifts and gift weight loss amongst the nursery web spider, Pisaura mirabilis. J Ethol 37, 363–370 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-019-00612-7

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Keywords

  • Honest signalling
  • Cheating
  • Nuptial feeding