Color and communication in Habronattus jumping spiders: tests of sexual and ecological selection

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Differences between males and females can evolve through a variety of mechanisms, including sexual and ecological selection. Because coloration is evolutionarily labile, sexually dichromatic species are good models for understanding

Differences between males and females can evolve through a variety of mechanisms, including sexual and ecological selection. Because coloration is evolutionarily labile, sexually dichromatic species are good models for understanding the evolution of sex differences. While many jumping spiders exhibit diverse and brilliant coloration, they have been notably absent from such studies. In the genus Habronattus, females are drab and cryptic while males are brilliantly colored, displaying some of these colors to females during elaborate courtship dances. Here I test multiple hypotheses for the control and function of male color. In the field, I found that Habronattus males indiscriminately court any female they encounter (including other species), so I first examined the role that colors play in species recognition. I manipulated male colors in H. pyrrithrix and found that while they are not required for species recognition, the presence of red facial coloration improves courtship success, but only if males are courting in the sun. Because light environment affects transmission of color signals, the multi-colored displays of males may facilitate communication in variable and unpredictable environments. Because these colors can be costly to produce and maintain, they also have the potential to signal reliable information about male quality to potential female mates. I found that both red facial and green leg coloration is condition dependent in H. pyrrithrix and thus has the potential to signal quality. Yet, surprisingly, this variation in male color does not appear to be important to females. Males of many Habronattus species also exhibit conspicuous markings on the dorsal surface of their abdomens that are not present in females and are oriented away from females during courtship. In the field, I found that these markings are paired with increased leg-waving behavior in a way that resembles the pattern and behavior of wasps; this may provide protection by exploiting the aversions of predators. My data also suggest that different activity levels between the sexes have placed different selection pressures on their dorsal color patterns. Overall, these findings challenge some of the traditional ways that we think about color signaling and provide novel insights into the evolution of animal coloration.