DoctoralDissertation: Pre-Copulatory Sexual Cannibalism the Ecology of an Extreme Sexual Conflict

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Reproductive cannibalism, specifically female consumption of the male prior to, during, or immediately following copulation, occurs in several organisms and is a dramatic example of how ecology can shape behavior. Of particular interest are species exhibiting pre-copulatory reproductive cannibalism, or predation of the male by the female during courtship but prior to sperm transfer. In such cases, the costs of the behavior to males (death) and females (loss of a mate) are readily apparent. In contrast, the benefits of pre-copulatory reproductive cannibalism remain poorly understood. This research program is designed to uncover the functional significance of pre-copulatory reproductive cannibalism in the North American fishing spider (Dolomedes triton). Four hypotheses for pre-copulatory reproductive cannibalism will be tested. First, males may be a source of food for the predatory, adult female. Second, female attacks of males before mating may be an extreme form of mate rejection behavior. Third, pre-copulatory attacks may be the incidental by-product of selection for highly voracious predatory behavior in a multitude of other contexts. Finally, pre-copulatory attacks may occur because males simulate prey items in order to attract the female's attention. If these attacks fail sufficiently often, then such males may mate more often than males who court females in a less risky fashion. The study will thus enhance our understanding of how ecology influences the evolution of extreme behavior between the sexes.
Effective start/end date4/1/013/31/04


  • National Science Foundation: $9,612.00


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