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Open Access Research article

One-shot genitalia are not an evolutionary dead end - Regained male polygamy in a sperm limited spider species

Jutta M Schneider1* and Peter Michalik2

Author Affiliations

1 Biozentrum Grindel, Zoological Institute and Museum, University of Hamburg, Martin-Luther-King Platz 3, D-20146 Hamburg, Germany

2 Department of General and Systematic Zoology, Zoological Institute and Museum, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University, J.-S.-Bach-Str. 11/12, D-17489 Greifswald, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:197  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-197

Published: 8 July 2011



Monogynous mating systems with extremely low male mating rates have several independent evolutionary origins and are associated with drastic adaptations involving self-sacrifice, one-shot genitalia, genital damage, and termination of spermatogenesis immediately after maturation. The combination of such extreme traits likely restricts evolutionary potential perhaps up to the point of making low male mating rates irreversible and hence may constitute an evolutionary dead end. Here, we explore the case of a reversion to multiple mating from monogynous ancestry in golden orb-web spiders, Nephila senegalensis.


Male multiple mating is regained by the loss of genital damage and sexual cannibalism but spermatogenesis is terminated with maturation, restricting males to a single loading of their secondary mating organs and a fixed supply of sperm. However, males re-use their mating organs and by experimentally mating males to many females, we show that the sperm supply is divided between copulations without reloading the pedipalps.


By portioning their precious sperm supply, males achieve an average mating rate of four females which effectively doubles the maximal mating rate of their ancestors. A heritage of one-shot genitalia does not completely restrict the potential to increase mating rates in Nephila although an upper limit is defined by the available sperm load. Future studies should now investigate how males use this potential in the field and identify selection pressures responsible for a reversal from monogynous to polygynous mating strategies.