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Intersexual Trophic Niche Partitioning in an Ant-Eating spider (Araneae: Zodariidae)

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  • Stanislav Pekár, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
  • Martina Martisová, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
  • T. Bilde
  • Department of Biological Sciences, Genetics and Ecology
Divergence in trophic niche between the sexes may function to reduce competition between the sexes (“intersexual niche partitioning hypothesis”), or may be result from differential selection among the sexes on maximizing reproductive output (“sexual selection hypothesis”). The latter may lead to higher energy demands in females driven by fecundity selection, while males invest in mate searching. We tested predictions of the two hypotheses underlying intersexual trophic niche partitioning in a natural population of spiders. Zodarion jozefienae spiders specialize on Messor barbarus ants that are polymorphic in body size and hence comprise potential trophic niches for the spider, making this system well-suited to study intersexual trophic niche partitioning.

Methodology/Principal Findings
Comparative analysis of trophic morphology (the chelicerae) and body size of males, females and juveniles demonstrated highly female biased SSD (Sexual Size Dimorphism) in body size, body weight, and in the size of chelicerae, the latter arising from sex-specific growth patterns in trophic morphology. In the field, female spiders actively selected ant sub-castes that were larger than the average prey size, and larger than ants captured by juveniles and males. Female fecundity was highly positively correlated with female body mass, which reflects foraging success during the adult stage. Females in laboratory experiments preferred the large ant sub-castes and displayed higher capture efficiency. In contrast, males occupied a different trophic niche and showed reduced foraging effort and reduced prey capture and feeding efficiency compared with females and juveniles.

Our data indicate that female-biased dimorphism in trophic morphology and body size correlate with sex-specific reproductive strategies. We propose that intersexual trophic niche partitioning is shaped primarily by fecundity selection in females, and results from sex-differences in the route to successful reproduction where females are selected to maximize energy intake and fecundity, while males switch from foraging to invest in mating effort.

Original languageEnglish
JournalP L o S One
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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