Overcoming an evolutionary conflict: removal of a reproductive organ greatly increases locomotor performance.

  • Ramos M
  • Irschick D
  • Christenson T
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One potential consequence of sexual size dimorphism is conflict among characters. For example, a structure evolved for reproduction can impair performance during other activities (e.g., locomotion). Here we provide quantitative evidence for an animal overcoming an evolutionary conflict generated by differential scaling and sexual size dimorphism by obligatorily removing an undamaged reproductive organ, and thus dramatically enhancing its locomotor performance. The spider genus Tidarren (Araneae, Theridiidae) is interesting because, within several species presenting extreme sexual size dimorphism (males representing approximately 1% of the total mass of the female), males voluntarily remove one of their two disproportionately large pedipalps (modified copulatory organs; a single one represents approximately 10% of the body mass in an adult) before achieving sexual maturity. Whether the left or right pedipalp is removed appears to be random. Previous researchers have hypothesized that pedipalp removal might enhance locomotor performance, a prediction that has remained untested. We found that, for male Tidarren sisyphoides, maximum speed increased (44%) significantly and endurance increased (63%) significantly after pedipalp removal. Furthermore, spiders with one pedipalp moved approximately 300% greater distances before exhaustion and had a higher survival after exertion than those with two pedipalps. Removal of the pedipalp may have evolved in male Tidarren because of enhanced abilities to search for females (higher endurance and survival after exertion) and to out-compete rival males on the female's web (higher maximum speed). Our data also highlight how the evolution of conflicts can result in the evolution of a novel behavior.

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  • Margarita Ramos

  • Duncan J Irschick

  • Terry E Christenson

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