Male mating strategies to counter sexual conflict in spiders

Sexual conflict occurs when the two sexes have conflicting fitness strategies regarding reproduction. Female sexual cannibalism is an extreme manifestation of sexual conflict. Here we test two male mating strategies aiming at countering sexual cannibalism in spiders. The “better charged palp” hypothesis predicts male selected use of the paired sexual organ (palp) containing more sperm for their first copulation. The “fast sperm transfer” hypothesis predicts accelerated insemination when cannibalism is high.

Our comparative tests on five orbweb spider species reveal that males choose the palp with more sperm for the first copulation with cannibalistic females and that males transfer significantly more sperm if females are cannibalistic. By supporting the two hypotheses, these results provide credibility for male mating syndrome.

They, however, open new questions, namely, how does a male differentiate sperm quantities between his palps? How does he perform palp choice after assessing his cannibalistic partner? By conducting follow-up experiments on Nephilengys malabarensis, we reveal that it is sperm volume detection, rather than left-right palp dominance, that plays prominently in male palp choice.