Precopulatory sexual cannibalism in fishing spiders (Dolomedes triton): A role for behavioral syndromes

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Precopulatory sexual cannibalism (predation of a potential mate prior to copulation) offers an extreme example of intersexual conflict, a current focus in behavioral ecology. The 'aggressive-spillover' hypothesis, posits that precopulatory sexual cannibalism may be a nonadaptive by-product of a general syndrome of voracity (aggression towards prey) that is expressed in multiple behavioral contexts. In this view, selection favoring high levels of voracity throughout ontogeny spills over to cause sexual cannibalism in adult females even when it is not necessarily beneficial. Using the North American fishing spider, Dolomedes triton, we present the first in depth test of this hypothesis. We found support for three aspects of the spillover hypothesis. First, voracity towards hetero-specific prey results in high feeding rates, large adult size, and increased fecundity. Second, juvenile and adult voracity are positively correlated (i.e., voracity is a consistent trait over ontogeny). Third, voracity towards hetero-specific prey is indeed positively correlated with precopulatory sexual cannibalism. Assays of antipredator behavior further revealed positive correlations between boldness towards predators, voracity and precopulatory sexual cannibalism. Overall, our results support the notion that precopulatory sexual cannibalism in D. triton is part of a behavioral syndrome spanning at least three major contexts: foraging, predator avoidance, and mating.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-396
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggressive-spillover hypothesis
  • Fishing spiders
  • Sexual cannibalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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