Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 419–433 | Cite as

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

  • Jutta M. Schneider
  • Mark A. Elgar
Research article


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.

Key words

Araneoidea male–male competition Nephila edulis sexual size dimorphism sperm competition 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andersson, M. 1994Sexual SelectionPrinceton University PressPrincetonGoogle Scholar
  2. Arak, A. 1998Sexual dimorphism in body size: A model and a testEvolution42820825Google Scholar
  3. Blanckenhorn, W.U. 2000The evolutoin of body size: What keeps organisms small?Q. Rev. Biol.75385407CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Blomqvist, D., Johansson Unger, O.C. U., Larsson, M., Flodin, L.A. 1997Male aerial display and reversed sexual size dimorphism in the dunlinAnim. Behav.5412911299CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Christenson, T.E., Cohn, J. 1998Male advantage for egg fertilisation in the golden orb-weaving spider (Nephila clavipes)J. Comp. Physiol.102312318Google Scholar
  6. Christenson, T.E., Goist, K.C. 1979Costs and benefits of male–male competition in the orb-weaving spider Nephila ClavipesBehav. Ecol. Sociobiol.58792CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coddington, J.A., Hormiga, G., Scharff, N. 1997Giant female or dwarf male spiders? with reply by Vollrath, F. and Parker, G.ANature385687688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Danielsson, I. 2001Antagonistic pre- and post-copulatory sexual selection on male body size in a water strider (Gerris lacustris)Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B.2687781CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Darwin, C. 1871The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to SexMurrayLondonGoogle Scholar
  10. Elgar, M., Fahey, B. 1996Sexual cannibalism, competition, and size dimorphism in the orb-weaving spider Nephila plumipes Latreille (Araneae, Araneoidea)Behav. Ecol.7195198Google Scholar
  11. Elgar, M.A. 1989Kleptoparasitism : a cost of aggregating for an orb-weaving spiderAnim. Behav.3710521054CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Elgar, M.A. 1991Size dimorphism in sexually cannibalistic orb-weaving spiders co varies with courtship behaviorEvolution45444448Google Scholar
  13. Elgar, M.A. 1992Sexual cannibalism in spiders and other invertebratesElgar, M.A.Crespi, B.J. eds. Cannibalism: Ecology and Evolution Among Diverse TaxaOxfordNew York128155Google Scholar
  14. Elgar, M.A. 1998Sperm competition and sexual selection in spiders and other arachnidsBirkhead, T.R.Moller, A.P. eds. Sperm Competition and Sexual SelectionAcademic PressLondon307332Google Scholar
  15. Elgar, M.A., Bruce, M.J., de Crespigny, F.E.C., Cutler, A.R., Cutler, C.L., Gaskett, A.C., Herberstein, M.E., Ramamurthy, S., Schneider, J.M. 2003aMale mate choice and patterns of paternity in the polyandrous, sexually cannibalistic orb-web spider Nephila plumipesAust. J. Zool.51357365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Elgar, M.A., Crespigny, F.E.C., Ramamurthy, S. 2003bMale copulation behavior and the risk of sperm competitionAnim. Behav.66211216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Head, G. 1995Selection on fecundity and variation in the degree of sexual size dimorphism among spider species (Class Araneae)Evolution49776781Google Scholar
  18. Hernandez, M.I.M., Benson, W.W. 1998Small-male advantage in the territorial tropical butterfly Heliconius sara (Nymphalidae): a paradoxical strategy?Anim. Behav.56533540CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Higgins, L. 2002Female gigantism in a New Guinea population of the spider Nephila maculataOikos99377385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Klingenberg, C.P., Spence, J.R. 1997On the role of body size for life-history evolutionEcol. Entomol.225568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Miyashita, T. 1993Male male competition and mating success in the orb-web spider Nephila clavata with reference to temporal factorsEcol. Res.893102Google Scholar
  22. Moya-Larano, J., Halaj, J., Wise, D.H. 2002Climbing to reach females: Romeo should be smallEvolution56420425PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Parker, G.A. 1970Sperm competition and its evolutionary consequences in the insectsBiol. Rev.45525567Google Scholar
  24. Prenter, J., Montgomery, W.I., Elwood, R.W. 1997Sexual dimorphism in northern temperate spiders – implications for the differential mortality modelJ. Zool.243341349Google Scholar
  25. Prenter, J., Elwood, R.W., Montgomery, W.I. 1999Sexual size dimorphism and reproductive investment by female spiders: A comparative analysisEvolution5319871994Google Scholar
  26. Robinson, M.H., Robinson, B. 1980Comparative studies of the courtship and mating behavior of tropical araneid spidersPacific Insects Monog.361218Google Scholar
  27. Roff, D.A. 1992The Evolution of Life Histories: Theories and AnalysisChapman & HallNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  28. Schneider, J.M., Elgar, M.A. 2001Sexual cannibalism and sperm competition in the golden orb-web spider Nephila plumipes (Araneoidea): female and male perspectivesBehav. Ecol.12547552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schneider, J.M., Elgar, M.A. 2002Sexual cannibalism in Nephila plumipes as a consequence of female life history strategiesJ. Evol. Biol.158491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schneider, J.M., Herberstein, M.E., de Crespigny, F.C., Ramamurthy, S., Elgar, M.A. 2000Sperm competition and small size advantage for males of the golden orb-web spider Nephila edulisJ. Evol. Biol.13939946CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schneider, J.M., Thomas, M.L., Elgar, M.A. 2001Ectomised conductors in the golden orb-web spider, Nephila plumipes (Araneoidea): a male adaptation to sexual conflict?Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol.49410415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Schutz, D., Taborsky, M. 2000Giant males or dwarf females: What determines the extreme sexual size dimorphism in Lamprologus callipterus?J. Fish Biol.5712541265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schutz, D., Taborsky, M. 2003Adaptations to an aquatic life may be responsible for the reversed sexual size dimorphism in the water spider, Argyroneta aquaticaEvol. Ecol. Res.5105117Google Scholar
  34. Shine, R. 1984Ecological causes of the evolution of sexual dimorphism: a review of the evidenceQ. Rev. Biol.64419441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Simmons, L.W. 2001Spermcompetition and its Evolutionary Consequences in the InsectsPrinceton University PressPrinceton and OxfordGoogle Scholar
  36. Stearns, S. 1992The Evolution of Life HistoriesOxford University PressOxfordGoogle Scholar
  37. Szekley, T., Reynolds, J.D., Figuerola, J. 2000Sexual size dimorphism in shorebirds, gulls, and alcids: The influence of sexual and natural selectionEvolution5414041413PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Uhl, G., Vollrath, F. 1998Little evidence for size-selective sexual cannibalism in two species of Nephila (Araneae)Zool. Anal. Complex Syst.101101106Google Scholar
  39. Vollrath, F. 1980Male body size and fitness in the web-building spider Nelphia clavipesZ.␣Tierpsychol.536178Google Scholar
  40. Vollrath, F. 1998Dwarf malesTrends Ecol. Evol.13159163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Vollrath, F., Parker, G. 1992Sexual dimorphism and distorted sex ratios in spidersNature360156159CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biozentrum GrindelUniversität HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyUniversity of MelbourneVictoriaAustralia

Personalised recommendations