Sperm competition and small size advantage for males of the golden orb-web spider Nephila edulis


J. M.Schneider Department of Population Biology, Zoological Institute, University of Mainz, D-55099 Mainz, Germany. Tel.: + 49 61 31 39 23946; fax: + 49 61 31 39 23731; e-mail: jutta@oekologie.biologie.uni-mainz.de


Sexual selection, through female choice and/or male–male competition, has influenced the nature and direction of sexual size dimorphism in numerous species. However, few studies have examined the influence of sperm competition on size dimorphism. The orb-web spider Nephila edulis has a polygamous mating system and extreme size dimorphism. Additionally, the frequency distribution of male body size is extremely skewed with most males being small and few large. The duration of copulation, male size and sexual cannibalism have been identified as the significant factors determining patterns of sperm precedence in spiders. In double mating trials, females were assigned to three treatments: either they mated once with both males or the first or the second male was allowed to mate twice. Paternity was strongly associated with the duration of copulation, independent of mating order. Males that were allowed to mate twice not only doubled the duration of copulation but also their paternity. Small males had a clear mating advantage, they copulated longer than large males and fertilized more eggs. Males of different sizes used different tactics to mate. Large males were more likely to mate through a hole they cut into the web, whereas small males approached the female directly. Furthermore, small males usually mated at their first attempt but large males required several attempts before mating took place. There was no obvious female reaction towards males of different sizes.