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Keywords:

  • behavioural syndromes;
  • boldness;
  • Lycosa hispanica;
  • sexual cannibalism;
  • sexual selection;
  • spillover aggression

Abstract

Animal personalities (e.g. consistent across-context behavioural differences between individuals) can lead to differences in mate choice. However, evidence for this link remains limited. Pre-mating sexual cannibalism can be a behavioural syndrome (i.e. a suboptimal personality) in which adaptive female aggression towards heterospecific prey spills over on non-adaptive aggression towards courting males, independently of the female mating or feeding status (i.e. the ‘aggressive spillover hypothesis’, ASH). On the other hand, sexual cannibalism can also be a form of mate choice by which females selectively kill or mate with males depending on the male phenotype. We introduce the hypothesis that the most aggressive females in the population will not only attack males more frequently, but will be less likely to impose sexual selection on males through sexual cannibalism. Assuming that in a field common garden experiment in which females were fed ad libitum the rate of weight gain by a female may reflect her voracity or aggressiveness, we show that in the cannibalistic burrowing wolf spider Lycosa hispanica (formerly L. tarantula), voracity towards heterospecific prey predicts a female's tendency towards sexual cannibalism. Unmated females with higher weight gains were more cannibalistic and attacked males regardless of the male phenotype. On the other hand, females that were less voracious tended to be less cannibalistic, and when they did kill a male, they were selective, killing males in poorer condition and mating with those in better condition. Our results demonstrate that females with different phenotypes (growth rates) differently imposed selection on male condition, tentatively supporting the hypothesis that female aggression levels can spill over on sexual selection through sexual cannibalism.