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Ghislandi, Paolo Giovanni; Pekar, Stano; Matzke, Magdalena; Schulte-Doeinghaus, Sarah; Bilde, Trine and Tuni, Cristina (2018): Resource availability, mating opportunity and sexual selection intensity influence the expression of male alternative reproductive tactics. In: Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Vol. 31, No. 7: pp. 1035-1046

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The expression of alternative reproductive tactics can be plastic and occur simultaneously depending on cues that vary spatially or temporally. For example, variation in resources and sexual selection intensity is expected to influence the pay-off of each tactic and shape the decision of which tactic to employ. Males of the nuptial gift-giving spider Pisaura mirabilis can adopt three tactics: offering a genuine prey gift, a worthless' non-nutritious gift or no gift. We hypothesized that resources and/or male body condition, and mating opportunity and sexual selection intensity, vary over the course of the mating season to shape the co-existence of alternative traits. We measured these variables in the field over two seasons, to investigate the predictions that as the mating season progresses, (i) males become more likely to employ a gift-giving tactic, and (ii) the likelihood of switching from worthless to genuine gifts increases. Prey availability increased over the season and co-varied with the propensity of males to employ the gift-giving tactic, but we found no support for condition-dependent gift giving. Males responded to an increase in female availability by increasing their mating effort (gift production). Furthermore, the frequency of genuine gift use increased with sexual selection intensity, consistent with the assumption that sperm competition intensity increases with time. Our results suggest that the frequency of alternative tactics is shaped by seasonal changes in ecological factors and sexual selection. This leads to relaxed selection for the gift-giving tactic early in the season when females are less choosy and resources more scarce, and increased selection for genuine gifts later in the season driven by mating opportunity and risk of sperm competition.

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