Sexual selection in spiders: a review
(published in Biol. Rev., 2005; see Abstract, PDF)
Illustration: Janina Huber (at age 6)

When Darwin published his ideas on sexual selection, his emphasis was largely on birds, mammals and insects (see graph below). Spiders continue to be a rather marginal group in the study of sexual selection, but recent years have seen a steep increase in papers. This review has three main parts:
  • First I focus on female choice and male competition working in the various sensory modalities, with the main conclusion that sexual selection in spiders may predominantly work via channels of communication that are not as easily accessible to the human observer as bird plumage, mammal weapons, and insect stridulation.
  • Then I consider some topics for which spiders offer particularly useful model organisms, like sexual size dimorphism, cannibalism, and sperm competition. The picture that is emerging is a highly complex one, with seemingly homogenous characteristics resulting from a variety of evolutionary and mechanistic causes.
  • Finally, this review presents the current taxonomic status of the spider species cited by Darwin, and shows that some of his examples appear better explained by natural than by sexual selection.