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Tuni, Cristina; Weber, Sabrina; Bilde, Trine and Uhl, Gabriele (2017): Male spiders reduce pre- and postmating sexual investment in response to sperm competition risk. In: Behavioral Ecology, Vol. 28, No. 4: pp. 1030-1036

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The interplay between pre- and postmating responses to intrasexual competition remains enigmatic. Sperm competition models often assume a trade-off between pre- and postmating traits that enhance mate acquisition and fertilization success, respectively. However, when males court females through food donations (i.e., nuptial gifts), pre- and postmating responses may be aligned, as nuptial gifts have the dual function of facilitating both mate acquisition and sperm transfer. In the spider Pisaura mirabilis, nuptial gifts consist of silk-wrapped prey. We tested whether males respond to a competitor by altering: 1) premating investment in the gift, 2) postmating sperm investment, and 3) whether pre- and postmating responses are coupled and respond to competition in the same direction or not. Under competition risk males silk-wrapped their gifts for significantly shorter time and transferred less sperm to females, pointing to a reduction of both pre- and postmating responses. Because silk is not a target of female choice, reducing gift construction may speed up mate acquisition. In accordance with models of sperm allocation, perceived high levels of competition and/or sperm priority patterns may explain the reduced patterns of sperm transfer found in our study. Overall, our findings suggest that in competitive environments pre- and postmating traits are coupled and respond in the same direction.

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