Evolutionary Ecology

, 25:1289 | Cite as

Testing ecological and developmental hypotheses of mean and variation in adult size in nephilid orb-weaving spiders

  • Linden Higgins
  • Jonathan Coddington
  • Charles Goodnight
  • Matjaž Kuntner
Original Paper


Fecundity selection has been hypothesized to drive the evolution of female gigantism in the orb-weaving family Nephilidae. Several species of these spiders also exhibit large amounts of variation in size at maturity in one or both sexes. In this article, we attempt to detect correlations of mean and variation in adult size at a phylogenetic scale between the sexes and with latitude. We tested six predictions derived from three broad developmental, ecological, and age structure hypotheses, using independent contrasts and a recent species-level nephilid phylogeny as well as least squares and other conventional statistics: 1. In both sexes, species with larger mean size will have greater variation in size; 2. Males and females will show correlated changes in mean size and of variation in size; 3. In both sexes, mean size will be negatively correlated with the midpoint of the latitudinal range; 4. In both sexes, tropical species will be more variable; 5. In both sexes, more widespread species will be more variable; 6. Variation in male size will be positively correlated with mean female size. In no cases were male and female development correlated, suggesting that in this lineage male and female body size evolve independently. The only significant trend detected was a positive phylogenetic correlation between variation in female size and latitude, the opposite of prediction 4. Power tests showed that in all tests of the ecological hypothesis, sample sizes were more than adequate to detect significant trends, if present. Our results suggest that evolutionary trends in juvenile development among species are too weak to be detectable in such data sets.


Female gigantism Sexual size dimorphism Nephilidae Nephila Nephilengys 



We are grateful to many people for help in the preparation of this manuscript, especially numerous patient curators. Financial support during the collection of data and preparation of the manuscript came from the US National Science Foundation with grants to LEH (INT-1235778) and JC (PEET grant DEB-9712353 and EAR-0228699), from the Slovenian Research Agency to MK and JC (ARRS grants Z1-7082-0618, BI-US/06-07-026) and the European Commission’s 6th FP to MK (MIRG-CT-2005 036536). From the Smithsonian NMNH, D. DeRoche helped with the specimen management and K. Darrow prepared all the figures. Specimen measurements and data entry were done in part by M. Gregorič (Ljubljana) and A. Gallant Bernstein, J. Madden, R. Webber, B. Mulcahey and S. Wanamaker at UVM. Additional data were graciously contributed by J. Schneider, M. Elgar, and H. Japyassu. T. Garland and P. Midford helped us navigate the intricacies of PDAP within Mesquite. Conversations with K. Pickett also aided in our understanding of the statistics employed in these analyses. Comments from several anonymous reviewers were very helpful in preparation of the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linden Higgins
    • 1
  • Jonathan Coddington
    • 2
  • Charles Goodnight
    • 1
  • Matjaž Kuntner
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  2. 2.National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and ArtsLjubljanaSlovenia

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