Sexual cannibalism in Nephila plumipes as a consequence of female life history strategies


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Abstract

The evolution of sexual cannibalism has been modelled as both an adaptive and nonadaptive female strategy. Recent evidence from several species suggests a connection between female foraging and sexual cannibalism, but the precise benefits for females have remained obscure. Here, we investigate the difference between cannibalistic and noncannibalistic female Nephila plumipes by removing the potential nutritional benefit of cannibalism. Courting and mating males that were killed by a female were immediately removed so that the female could not consume them. Nevertheless, cannibalistic females gained more mass from maturation to oviposition and produced larger first clutches than noncannibalistic females, although cannibalistic females matured at a smaller size and mass than noncannibalistic females. In juvenile instars, mass gain was generally smaller in females that moulted in a good condition but intermoult intervals were shorter. However, the time from maturity to oviposition was not shorter in females that matured in a good condition. Male behaviour did not differ according to the risk of cannibalism. We suggest that sexual cannibalism in N. plumipes is a side-effect of an increased foraging vigour of females that matured at a smaller size and body mass. Selection pressure on males to avoid cannibalism may be weak because of limited mating opportunities.

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