Female's courtship threshold allows intruding males to mate with reduced effort

J. A. Stoltz, M. C. B. Andrade

Abstract

Female decision rules can influence the nature and intensity of sexual selection on males, but empirical demonstrations of rules underlying choice are rare. We hypothesized that female choice is largely based on a courtship duration threshold in the Australian redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti) because females kill males before copulation is complete (premature cannibalism) and reduce their paternity if courtship is brief. We used published data to infer that the female's threshold is approximately 100 min of courtship. We support this hypothesis by showing that premature cannibalism is common when the male's courtship duration is below this threshold, but is infrequent and unrelated to duration once courtship exceeds the threshold. We then ask whether females discriminate the source of courtship when rival males compete, as this will determine the effect of the threshold on male competitive tactics. We staged competitions where ‘resident’ males initially courted females in the absence of competition, exceeding the courtship threshold before ‘intruding’ males were introduced. Intruding males mated rapidly but were not prematurely cannibalized by females, in contrast to cases where competition starts before the threshold is surpassed. This suggests females do not distinguish which male satisfies the threshold, allowing intruders to parasitize the courtship efforts of residents. To our knowledge, such exploitation of mating efforts by rival males mediated by a female choice threshold has not been demonstrated elsewhere. Ironically, this female choice threshold and the attendant possibility of courtship parasitism may lead to selection for lower-quality males to recognize and seek out (rather than avoid) webs in which competitors are already present.

Footnotes

    • Received August 27, 2009.
    • Accepted October 1, 2009.
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