Abstract

Extreme sexual body size dimorphism (SSD), in which males are only a small fraction of the size of the females, occurs only in a few, mostly marine, taxonomic groups. Spiders are the only terrestrial group in which small males are relatively common, particularly among orb-weavers (especially in the families Tetragnathidae and Araneidae) and crab spiders (Thomisidae). We used a taxonomic sample of 80 genera to study the phylogenetic patterns (origins and reversals) of SSD in orb-weaving spiders (Orbiculariae). We collected and compiled male and female size data (adult body length) for 536 species. Size data were treated as a continuous character, and ancestral sizes, for males and females separately, were reconstructed by using Wagner parsimony on a cladogram for the 80 genera used in this study. Of these 80 genera, 24 were female-biased dimorphic (twice or more the body length of the male); the remaining 56 genera were monomorphic. Under parsimony only four independent origins of dimorphism are required: in the theridiid genus Tidarren, in the distal nephilines, in the “argiopoid clade,” and in the araneid genus Kaira. Dimorphism has reversed to monomorphism at least seven times, all of them within the large “argiopoid clade.” The four independent origins of dimorphism represent two separate instances of an increase in female size coupled with a decrease of male size (involving only two genera), and two separate instances of an increase in female size with male size either remaining the same or increasing, but not as much as females (involving 30 genera). In orb-weaving spiders, far more taxa are sexually dimorphic as a result of female size increase (22 genera) than as a result of male size decrease (two genera). SSD in orb-weaving spiders encompasses several independent evolutionary histories that together suggest a variety of evolutionary pathways. This multiplicity strongly refutes all efforts thus far to find a general explanation for either the origin or maintenance (or both) of SSD, because the different pathways very likely will require distinctly different, possibly unique, explanations. Each pattern must be understood historically before its origin and maintenance can be explained in ecological and evolutionary terms. The most frequently cited example of male dwarfism in spiders, the golden orb-weaving spider genus Nephila (Tetragnathidae), is in fact a case of female giantism, not male dwarfism.