Mass-mediated sex differences in climbing patterns support the gravity hypothesis of sexual size dimorphism
Abstract. The gravity hypothesis of sexual size dimorphism can explain the patterns of extreme sexual size dimorphism in spiders (males smaller than females) because small males climb faster and therefore may be better at reaching females that live in high habitats. Recently, the main prediction of a negative relationship between climbing speed and body size in spiders has been called into question. Here we induced males and females of the spider Leucauge venusta (Tetragnathidae) to run on vertical surfaces and found partial support for the gravity hypothesis. As predicted, males climb faster than females and we demonstrated that this effect is an indirect effect mediated by the negative relationship between body mass and climbing speed. We validate our results using simulated data showing that there is enough statistical efficiency in our data set to support our conclusions. We distinguished between direct and indirect effects (through mass) on sex differences in climbing speed by means of path analysis. Thus, we provide empirical evidence that by being smaller, males are able to climb faster than females. However, we found only a barely significant negative relationship between climbing speed and body size when only males were considered. Reasons for such results are discussed within the text.