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Abstract

The theory of evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS) in asymmetric contests predicts that the propensity of an individual to expose itself to risk during contests depends on the individual's resource-holding-potential (RHP) and on the value of the disputed resource (V) for the individual compared with that for an opponent. If encounters of a territory owner with individuals of high RHP and high food demands (V) increase in frequency, one should expect a decrease in total aggressiveness of the territory owner, and in consequence a decrease of its territory size. Such a decrease should result in a lower amount of food consumed by the territory owner. Using natural variability in RHP and V in Gerris lacustris, I experimentally tested these predictions. The average prey item has higher value (V) for reproductive female water striders (which probably transform most of their food into eggs), than for nonreproductive females and for males. Because males are smaller, they have lower RHP than females, as RHP depends on size. Thus the reproductive females are the class of individuals of high RHP and high food demands (high V). Most nonreproductive females defend food-based territories. I observed two groups of water striders in a seminatural laboratory setting. As predicted, there was a negative correlation between the rate of encounter with reproductive females and size of the territory, and a positive correlation between territory size and number of Drosophila flies consumed by the owner. Territories were smaller in the group with high rates of encounter between territory owners and reproductive females. Territory owners caught the same number of Drosophila flies as non-territorial individuals in this group. In contrast, in the group with fewer encounters between territory owners and reproductive females, territories were larger, and territory owners gained more food than non territorial water striders.