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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Nov 11;100(23):13390-5. Epub 2003 Nov 3.

Subadult experience influences adult mate choice in an arthropod: exposed female wolf spiders prefer males of a familiar phenotype.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Current sexual selection theory proposes several potential mechanisms driving the evolution of female mating preferences, few of which involve social interactions. Although vertebrate examples of socially influenced mating preferences do exist, the invertebrate examples are virtually nonexistent. Here I demonstrate that the mating preferences of female wolf spiders can be acquired through exposure as subadults to unrelated, sexually active adult males. I first conducted exposure trials during which subadult females of the wolf spider Schizocosa uetzi were allowed to interact with mature males of an experimentally manipulated phenotype (either black or brown forelegs). After maturation, these previously exposed females were paired with a male of either a familiar or unfamiliar manipulated phenotype for mate-choice trials. Subadult females that were exposed to directed courtship by mature males of a particular morphological phenotype were subsequently more likely to mate with a male of a familiar phenotype as adults. Furthermore, females that were exposed as subadults were more likely, as adults, to cannibalize a courting male with an unfamiliar phenotype. Unexposed females did not distinguish between phenotypes in either mate choice or cannibalism frequency. These results suggest a previously uncharacterized mechanism influencing the origin of female mating preferences and ultimately the evolution of male traits: subadult experience. This study also stresses the potential importance of learning and memory on adult mate choice in an arthropod.

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