Cooperative breeding favors maternal investment in size over number of eggs in spiders

Lena Grinsted, Casper J Breuker, Trine Bilde

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The transition to cooperative breeding may alter maternal investment strategies depending on density of breeders, extent of reproductive skew, and allo-maternal care. Change in optimal investment from solitary to cooperative breeding can be investigated by comparing social species with nonsocial congeners. We tested two hypotheses in a mainly semelparous system: that social, cooperative breeders, compared to subsocial, solitarily breeding congeners, (1) lay fewer and larger eggs because larger offspring compete better for limited resources and become reproducers; (2) induce egg size variation within clutches as a bet-hedging strategy to ensure that some offspring become reproducers. Within two spider genera, Anelosimus and Stegodyphus, we compared species from similar habitats and augmented the results with a mini-meta-analysis of egg numbers depicted in phylogenies. We found that social species indeed laid fewer, larger eggs than subsocials, while egg size variation was low overall, giving no support for bet-hedging. We propose that the transition to cooperative breeding selects for producing few, large offspring because reproductive skew and high density of breeders and young create competition for resources and reproduction. Convergent evolution has shaped maternal strategies similarly in phylogenetically distant species and directed cooperatively breeding spiders to invest in quality rather than quantity of offspring.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1961-1973
Number of pages13
Issue number7
Early online date21 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2014


  • Animals
  • Breeding
  • Clutch Size/genetics
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Male
  • Ovum/cytology
  • Phylogeny
  • Reproduction/genetics
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Spiders/genetics


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