Viability Costs of Condition-Dependent Sexual Male Display in a Drumming Wolf Spider
According to the conditional handicap models females use male ornaments as honest signals of male viability. The assumptions for honest signalling are that the traits are costly and that they reflect male phenotypic condition, and hence optimal trait size is largest in the most viable males. However, experimental evidence for the costs of signalling are scarce. In this study we experimentally tested whether acoustic signalling, drumming, in a wolf spider Hygrolycosa rubrofasciata is a condition dependent, costly trait, and thus offers an honest signal of quality to females. Males of this species court females by drumming dry leaves with their abdomen. Females prefer to mate with males of high drumming rate, but body mass of males does not affect female choice. We manipulated phenotypic condition of males by keeping them in high, intermediate and low food levels. Males in a high food level treatment maintained their drumming rate at a high level, while males with intermediate and low food levels exhibited a reduction in drumming rates. Thus, phenotypic condition of the males affects their sexual signalling. We induced another set of males to increase their drumming activity by presenting females in proximity. These males suffered higher mortality and lost significantly more weight than other males, confirming that drumming is costly. However, within the increased treatment group males that drummed most actively survived better than less active males. Thus, males vary in their ability to bear the costs of drumming, which suggests that drumming is an honest signal of male quality (= conditional handicap) for females.