Kinship Influences Cannibalism in the Wolf Spider, Pardosa milvina

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Recent studies have called into question the role of Wright's coefficient of relatedness (r) in the interactions among relatives. Kin selection theory predicts a positive relationship between relatedness and frequency of “altruistic” acts, but a number of researchers have reported the opposite relationship. I used a lycosid spider (Pardosa milvina) to test the hypothesis that genetic relatedness would affect the propensity of a cannibalistic species to prey on genetic relatives. I considered lack of predation to be a form of “altruism” where the predator incurs a cost (loss of a meal) that benefits potential prey. Specifically, I questioned whether direct genetic offspring would be avoided as prey items and whether the sex or reproductive condition of a cannibalistic predator would affect the likelihood of predation on conspecific juveniles. As predicted by kin selection theory, spiderling mothers ate significantly fewer of their own offspring than they did of nonkin spiderlings of the same age. Adult virgin female and adult male spiders ate significantly more spiders than females that had recently carried spiderlings. Females with egg sacs consumed significantly fewer spiderlings than did virgin female spiders. These findings support Hamilton's rule and suggest that, in some systems, genetic relatedness plays a strong role in governing altruistic behavior toward relatives.

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