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Does personality explain variation in the probability of sexual cannibalism in the orb-web spider Argiope aurantia?

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Sexual cannibalism is often hypothesized to be an extreme manifestation of sexual conflict, yet we still lack a good understanding of the underlying motivation in most species. Hypotheses for the ultimate causes of sexual cannibalism either invoke the behavior as adaptive or mal-adaptive. Adaptive hypotheses consider foraging decisions, mate choice or genetic bet-hedging. Mal-adaptive hypotheses propose that sexual cannibalism is the result of mistaken species identity or the by-product of an aggression syndrome. Here, we test the latter hypothesis, that sexual cannibalism is the result of an aggression syndrome. This hypothesis states that aggressive behavior is favored in the foraging context because females benefit from achieving a large size quickly through an increase in fecundity, and it predicts that individuals that are aggressive foragers are more likely to attack a male and hence are at risk of receiving no or insufficient quantities of sperm. Few tests of this hypothesis are available to date, and only one involved a species with sexual cannibalism occurring after at least some sperm transfer. We test the hypothesis in Argiope aurantia, a species in which females frequently attack males during copulation. We estimated aggressiveness in the foraging context in penultimate and adults females and staged matings using the same females to evaluate whether aggressiveness during the foraging context predicts the likelihood of sexual cannibalism. Indeed, we find that aggressive foragers are more likely to attack their mates, but we conclude that other, possibly adaptive reasons for cannibalism exist as much of the uncertainty in cannibalism occurrence remained unexplained.


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Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Adelphi University, 1 South Avenue, Garden City, NY 11530, USA


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