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  1. Abstract

    Defensive strategies, like other life-history traits favored by natural selection, may pose constraints on reproduction. A common anti-predator defense strategy that increases immediate survival is autotomy—the voluntary release of body parts. This type of morphological damage is considered to impose future costs for reproduction and fitness. We tested an alternative hypothesis that animals are robust (able to withstand and overcome perturbations) to this type of damage and do not experience any fitness costs in reproductive contexts. We explored the effects of experimental leg loss on the reproductive behavior of one species of NeotropicalPrionostemmaharvestmen. These arachnids undergo autotomy frequently, do not regenerate legs, and their courtship and mating necessitate the use of legs. We assessed the effect of losing different types of legs (locomotor or sensory) on courtship behavior and mating success in males. We found no differences in the mating success or in any measured aspect of reproductive behavior between eight-legged males and males that experienced loss of legs of any type. Additionally, we found that morphological traits related to body size did not predict mating success. Overall, our experimental findings support the null hypothesis that harvestmen are robust to the consequences of morphological damage and natural selection favors strategiesmore »that increase robustness.

    Significance statement

    In order to survive encounters with predators, animals have evolved many defensive strategies. Some of those behaviors, however, can come with a cost to their overall body condition. For example, some animals can voluntarily lose body parts (tails, legs, etc.) to escape. This process can then affect many aspects of an animal’s life, including reproduction. In a group of harvestmen (daddy long-legs) from Costa Rica, we tested the hypothesis that males are robust to the potential consequences of losing legs, and will not experience costs. We found that males that lost either legs used for locomotion or for sensory perception reproduced in the same way as animals with all of their legs. Consequently, we demonstrate that these arachnids are able to withstand the loss of legs with no effects on reproduction.

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