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Mate quality, not aggressive spillover, explains sexual cannibalism in a size-dimorphic spider

Abstract

Sexual cannibalism particularly before mating is costly for the male victim but also for the female aggressor if she risks remaining unmated. The aggressive spillover hypothesis explains the persistence of this behavior as a maladaptive side effect of positive selection on aggressiveness in a foraging context. The hypothesis predicts that the occurrence of sexual cannibalism is explained by female aggressiveness but is not related to male phenotype or behavioral type. An alternative hypothesis invokes sexual selection and makes the opposite prediction namely that sexual cannibalism is an expression of female choice and should hence mainly target males of low quality. We tested the above hypotheses on a sexually dimorphic nephilid spider Nephilengys livida, known for male monopolization of females via genital damage, female genital plugging, and mate guarding, by staging mating trials during which we recorded mating behaviors and occurrences of pre- and postcopulatory cannibalism. We did not restrict assessment of aggressiveness to the mating and foraging context but also included aggression against same sex conspecifics. To assess female personalities, i.e., consistent individual differences in behavior including aggressiveness, we repeatedly tested them for intra-sex aggression, voracity towards prey, locomotory activity, and boldness. Females exhibited consistent differences in intra-sex aggressiveness, latency to attack prey, and boldness. Aggressive females had shorter latencies to attack prey and were more active than non-aggressive ones. In contrast to the predictions of the aggressive spillover hypothesis, females that were aggressive towards prey and towards other females were not more likely to attack a male than non-aggressive females. In support of the mate choice hypothesis, less aggressive males were more likely attacked and cannibalized than more aggressive ones. This hints at sexual selection for aggressiveness in males and raises the question of mechanisms that maintain variation in male aggressiveness.

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Acknowledgments

We thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. We thank Ingi Agnarsson, Sahondra Lalao Rahanitriniaina, and Honore Rabarison for their help in the field. This work was funded by the Slovenian Research Agency (grant J1-2063 to MK) and the National Geographic Society (grant 8655-09 to I. Agnarsson, M. Kuntner, and T. Blackledge). SKF was supported by a Humboldt fellowship for postdoctoral researchers and a Humboldtian Return Fellowship. SP was supported by grant no. 0021622416 from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic.

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Correspondence to Simona Kralj-Fišer.

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Communicated by M. Hauber

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Kralj-Fišer, S., Schneider, J.M., Justinek, Ž. et al. Mate quality, not aggressive spillover, explains sexual cannibalism in a size-dimorphic spider. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 66, 145–151 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-011-1262-7

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Keywords

  • Personality
  • Mate choice
  • Sexual conflict
  • Aggressiveness
  • Behavioral syndromes
  • Boldness