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Sex-specific trait architecture in a spider

Sexual dimorphism (sex-specific trait expression) may evolve when selection favours different optima for the same trait between sexes - that is, under antagonistic selection. Intra-locus sexual conflict exists when the sexually dimorphic trait under antagonistic selection is based on genes shared between sexes. A common assumption is that the presence of sexual-size dimorphism indicates that sexual conflict has been, at least partly, resolved via decoupling of the trait architecture between sexes. However, whether and how decoupling of the trait architecture between sexes has been realized often remains unknown.

We tested for differences in architecture of adult body size between sexes in a species with extreme SSD, the African hermit spider Nephilingis cruentata, where adult female body size greatly exceeds that of males. Specifically, we estimated the sex-specific importance of genetic and maternal effects on adult body size among individuals that we laboratory-reared for up to eight generations. Quantitative genetic model estimates indicated that size variation in females is to a larger extent explained by direct genetic effects than by maternal effects, but in males to a larger extent by maternal than by genetic effects. We conclude that this sex-specific body-size architecture enables body-size evolution to proceed much more independently than under a common architecture to both sexes.

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