Year of Publication


Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Andrew Sih


Pre-copulatory sexual cannibalism (pre-SC), or predation of a potential mate before sperm transfer, provides an ideal model system for behavioral ecology's current focus on inter-sexual conflict. Studying the North American fishing spider (Dolomedes triton), I tested three female-benefit hypotheses for pre-SC: indirect benefits, direct benefits, and aggressive spillover. First, pre-SC may reflect a mating bias providing females with 'good-genes' benefits. By manipulating each female's options with regard to the most cited phenotypic advantage in male spiders, body size, I show that while females exhibit no bias in their attack tendency on males of different body sizes, large males mate significantly more often than small males. Second, pre-SC may be explained by direct benefits if females use it as an adaptive foraging/mating trade-off. My work provides mixed support for this idea: (i) females vary attacks according to the availability of mates, (ii) females do not vary attacks according to the availability of food, and (iii) females derive discrete fecundity benefits from consuming a male. Finally, I tested the aggressive-spillover hypothesis, which posits that pre-SC is a by-product of selection for high levels of aggression towards prey in traditional foraging contexts. Path analysis indicated intra-individual, positive correlations between aggression in foraging contexts and the mating context, thus supporting the hypothesis. I conclude by stressing that pre-SC in a given species may rarely be explained by one hypothesis, and that studies accounting for multiple benefits that fluctuate as behavioral-ecological contexts shift should give a more realistic glimpse of behavioral ecology and evolution.