Sexual selection research in spiders
The renaissance of interest in sexual selection during the last decades has fuelled an extraordinary increase of scientific papers on the subject in spiders. Research has focused both on the process of sexual selection itself, for example on the signals and various modalities involved, and on the patterns, that is the outcome of mate choice and competition depending on certain parameters. Sexual selection has most clearly been demonstrated in cases involving visual and acoustical signals but most spiders are myopic and mute, relying rather on vibrations, chemical and tactile stimuli. This review argues that research has been biased towards modalities that are relatively easily accessible to the human observer. Circumstantial and comparative evidence indicates that sexual selection working via substrate-borne vibrations and tactile as well as chemical stimuli may be common and widespread in spiders. Pattern-oriented research has focused on several phenomena for which spiders offer excellent model objects, like sexual size dimorphism, nuptial feeding, sexual cannibalism, and sperm competition. The accumulating evidence argues for a highly complex set of explanations for seemingly uniform patterns like size dimorphism and sexual cannibalism. Sexual selection appears involved as well as natural selection and mechanisms that are adaptive in other contexts only. Sperm competition has resulted in a plethora of morphological and behavioural adaptations, and simplistic models like those linking reproductive morphology with behaviour and sperm priority patterns in a straightforward way are being replaced by complex models involving an array of parameters. Male mating costs are increasingly being documented in spiders, and sexual selection by male mate choice is discussed as a potential result. Research on sexual selection in spiders has come a long way since Darwin, whose spider examples are reanalysed in the context of contemporary knowledge, but the same biases and methodological constraints have persisted almost unchanged through the current boom of research.