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Broken Copulatory Organs are Low-Cost Adaptations to Sperm Competition in Redback Spiders

Authors

  • Lindsay S. E. Snow,

    1. Integrative Behaviour and Neuroscience Group, Department of Life Sciences, University of Toronto at Scarborough, Scarborough, ON, Canada
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  • Amal Abdel-Mesih,

    1. Integrative Behaviour and Neuroscience Group, Department of Life Sciences, University of Toronto at Scarborough, Scarborough, ON, Canada
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  • Maydianne C. B. Andrade

    1. Integrative Behaviour and Neuroscience Group, Department of Life Sciences, University of Toronto at Scarborough, Scarborough, ON, Canada
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Maydianne C. B. Andrade, Integrative Behaviour & Neuroscience Group, Department of Life Sciences, University of Toronto at Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, ON, Canada M1C 1A4.
E-mail: mandrade@utsc.utoronto.ca

Abstract

In some spiders, a discrete portion of the male's copulatory organ (the apical sclerite) breaks off during copulation and remains in the female's reproductive tract. Apical sclerites may prevent insemination by rivals (sperm competition), stimulate females to favourably bias paternity (cryptic choice) or breakage may reflect sexual conflict over copulation duration with little direct effect on paternity. It has been assumed that any benefits of organ breakage are balanced by a large cost (male sterility) in species where males could otherwise mate multiply, but this has never been experimentally tested. We examined these ideas in the Australian redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti Thorell 1870, Araneae: Theridiidae), a species where males are functionally sterile after one normal mating. We experimentally removed sclerites and found males were able to mate, had similar copulation durations and transferred similar numbers of sperm as males with intact sclerites. Benefits of organ breakage were examined by forcing intact, rival males to inseminate the same or opposite reproductive tracts (female have paired, independent tracts in this taxon) and assessing paternity as a function of sclerite location. As predicted, apical sclerites were typically deposited at the entrance to the female's sperm storage organ, where they could physically block insemination by rivals. First male precedence was common when males inseminated the same tract and deposited sclerites at the entrance to the spermatheca, but not when sclerites were found elsewhere in the tract, or when rivals inseminated opposite tracts (where physically blocking rivals was impossible). Our data show that, in redbacks, copulatory organ breakage is not a side-effect of sexual conflict, is unlikely to be a cue for cryptic female choice, but allows males to avoid sperm competition. Moreover, copulatory organ damage can have minimal reproductive cost for males, so assumptions of sterility after organ breakage are unjustified without supporting data.

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