- 1Cannibalism is considered an adaptive foraging strategy for animals of various trophic positions, including carnivores. However, previous studies on wolf spiders have questioned the high nutritional value of cannibalism. We therefore analysed two different aspects of nutritional quality of conspecifics in the wolf spider Pardosa prativaga: their value for survival, growth and development; and the growth efficiency of feeding on conspecifics. We also measured the propensity for cannibalistic attacks and the consumption rate of conspecifics in an experiment where hunger level and nutrient balance were manipulated. In all experiments, cannibalism was compared with predation on fruit flies as control prey.
- 2The growth experiment gave ambiguous results regarding the nutritional quality of conspecifics. Spiders on pure cannibalistic diets split into two distinct groups, one performing much better and the other much worse than spiders on fruit fly diets. We discuss the possibility that the population is dimorphic in its cannibalistic propensity, with the latter group of individuals showing a high level of inhibition against cannibalistic attacks in spite of a high nutritional value of cannibalism.
- 3The food utilization experiment confirmed the high nutritional quality of conspecifics, as cannibalistic spiders had the same growth rate as spiders fed insect prey in spite of a much lower consumption rate.
- 4Inhibition against cannibalistic attacks was demonstrated in medium-sized juveniles: only half of the spiders attacked a prescribed victim of 50% the size of their opponents, and the latency for those that did attack was more than half an hour, compared with a few minutes for spiders fed fruit flies.
- 5Nutrient-imbalanced spiders utilized an alternative insect diet less efficiently than balanced spiders, whereas no difference was present in efficiency of utilizing conspecifics. This result indicates that spiders can remedy at least part of a nutrient imbalance through cannibalism.
- 6As spiders can escape nutritional imbalance as well as restore energy reserves through cannibalism, we predicted both nutrient imbalance and hunger to stimulate cannibalism. This prediction was confirmed only with respect to hunger. Nutrient-imbalanced spiders had reduced cannibalistic consumption, perhaps due to lowered predatory aggressiveness as a result of bad condition.