All that Glisters is not Gold: Sensory Bias, Sexual Conflict and Nuptial Feeding in Insects and Spiders


Karim Vahed, Biological Sciences Research Group, University of Derby, Kedleston Rd, Derby DE22 1GB, UK.


It is becoming increasingly clear that the evolutionary interests of the sexes are often in conflict when it comes to mating. Sexual encounters involving nuptial gifts, however, have often been viewed as prime examples of sexual co-operation, rather than conflict. In this review, I explore the proposition that nuptial gifts act as sensory traps: by exploiting the female's gustatory responses, the male may be able to entice females to accept superfluous matings and/or transfer greater volumes of ejaculate than are in the female's reproductive interests. Evidence suggests that the females’ sensory biases may have played an important role in shaping gift characteristics in at least four different systems, although relatively few forms of nuptial feeding have so far been examined from this perspective. I argue that gift composition is more likely to be tailored to increasing the attractiveness of the gift to the female and/or maximizing gift handling time than to suit the female's nutritional needs and that the fecundity-enhancing benefits of nuptial gifts are often questionable and have been over-stated in the literature. Fertilization biases associated with the female's attraction to the nuptial gift, however, could lead to in-direct benefits for the female. On the other hand, nuptial feeding may also lead to significant costs to the female. Evidence suggests that some types of gift entice the female to mate, but it is not clear whether the resultant degree of polyandry is higher than optimal for the female. In other cases, evidence suggests that the gift enables the male to overcome the resistance of the female to accepting an extra large ejaculate and that large ejaculates are associated with longer post-mating sexual refractory periods in the female. This could represent a cost to the female by delaying or preventing her from receiving the genetic benefits of polyandry. At present, it is not clear, however, whether such costs outweigh the potential benefits of nuptial feeding for the female.