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A mismatch between signal transmission efficacy and mating success calls into question the function of complex signals

  • Author(s): Choi, N;
  • Bern, M;
  • Elias, DO;
  • McGinley, RH;
  • Rosenthal, MF;
  • Hebets, EA
  • et al.

Variation in transmission characteristics of signalling environments is hypothesized to influence the evolution of signalling behaviour, signal form and sensory systems of animals. However, many animals communicate across multiple signalling environments, raising the possibility that some displays have evolved explicitly to enable communication across heterogeneous signalling environments. In the present paper, we explored multiple potential impacts of the signalling environment on courtship displays in the wolf spider Schizocosa retrorsa. Males of this species court females on a range of substrate types using a combination of vibratory and visual signals. Through a series of experiments, we investigated (1) activity patterns and male microhabitat use, (2) component-specific vibratory signal transmission across natural substrate types and (3) copulation success across substrate types and light levels. We found that, in the laboratory, (1) female and male S. retrorsa are most active during daylight hours, and mature males resided and courted most on leaf litter, as compared to their natural habitat types of pine litter or sand; (2) male vibratory courtship signals transmitted best on leaf litter, yet (3) males obtained the highest copulation success on sand, regardless of light level. Our results demonstrate that copulation in S. retrorsa is more likely to occur in environments with suboptimal vibratory signal transmission, irrespective of visual signal transmission. We suggest that these results point to (1) a minor role of bimodal (vibratory and visual) courtship signalling in S. retrorsa, (2) the importance of an additional signalling modality (most likely air particle movement), (3) a role of other substrate-dependent factors (e.g. predation risk), and/or (4) a reversed female preference for vibratory signalling.

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