Polyandrous females acquire indirect benefits in a nuptial feeding species

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The relative force of direct and indirect selection underlying the evolution of polyandry is contentious. When females acquire direct benefits during mating, indirect benefits are often considered negligible. Although direct benefits are likely to play a prominent role in the evolution of polyandry, post-mating selection for indirect benefits may subsequently evolve. We examined whether polyandrous females acquire indirect benefits and quantified direct and indirect effects of multiple mating on female fitness in a nuptial gift-giving spider (Pisaura mirabilis). In this system, the food item donated by males during mating predicts direct benefits of polyandry. We compared fecundity, fertility and survival of singly mated females to that of females mated three times with the same (monogamy) or different (polyandry) males in a two-factorial design where females were kept under high and low feeding conditions. Greater access to nutrients and sperm had surprisingly little positive effect on fitness, apart from shortening the time until oviposition. In contrast, polyandry increased female reproductive success by increasing the probability of oviposition, and egg hatching success indicating that indirect benefits arise from mating with several different mating partners rather than resources transferred by males. The evolution of polyandry in a male-resource-based mating system may result from exploitation of the female foraging motivation and that indirect genetic benefits are subsequently derived resulting from co-evolutionary post-mating processes to gain a reproductive advantage or to counter costs of mating. Importantly, indirect benefits may represent an additional explanation for the maintenance of polyandry.

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