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Sexual conflict in the sexually cannibalistic Springbok mantis (Miomantis caffra)

Project description

Violent and often deadly sexual conflict in insects: causes and consequences

Sexual cannibalism – when a mating partner (usually the female) eats their potential or actual mate before, during or after mating – is common among insects. The springbok mantis Miomantis caffra exhibits this cannibalism pre-mating. Males are also prone to ‘violence’, wrestling females to coerce them to mate, often puncturing females’ abdomens in the process. The causes and consequences of such sexual conflict in this species are not well understood. With support from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, the SCISM project will use field, laboratory and modelling approaches to analyse sexual conflict in the evolution of cannibalistic and anti-cannibalistic behaviour. SCISM will consider important unanswered questions on sexually cannibalistic taxa, including how sexual conflict in mating decisions shapes male and female behaviour.


Sexual cannibalism, which occurs when a female eats her mate before, during or after mating, is a classic example of sexual conflict since females gain a meal but males lose their life. The risk of premature death is expected to select for cautious mating tactics that help males to secure matings and avoid being eaten. Although such tactics are common in cannibalistic species, males of the Springbok mantis, Miomantis caffra, take a far more aggressive approach, wrestling females to coerce them to mate. Males that win wrestling bouts are more likely to secure matings and avoid cannibalism, but wrestling severely wounds females whose abdomens are punctured by males' weaponised forelegs. While this harmful male behaviour appears to be a classic manifestation of sexual conflict, the exact causes and consequences of male coercion and female injury in this species are yet to be elucidated. My project aims to use field, laboratory, and modelling approaches to investigate the role of sexual conflict in the evolution of cannibalistic and anti-cannibalistic behaviour. First, to determine rates of female injury in the wild, I plan to use mark-recapture techniques to track sex-ratio and injury incidence through time in wild populations of M. caffra in Auckland, New Zealand, where the species is widespread. Second, I plan to run a series of laboratory experiments to explore whether males increase their fitness by injuring females, or whether injury is an incidental side-effect of males' drive to mate. Third, I plan to run a mesocosm experiment to examine whether an increase in the intensity of sexual conflict reduces female survival and population productivity--a key theoretical prediction that has rarely been tested. Finally, I intend to use modelling techniques to investigate, more generally, the role that sexual conflict over mating decisions plays in shaping male and female behaviour in sexually cannibalistic taxa--a relationship that is currently poorly understood.

Fields of science



Net EU contribution
€ 173 847,36
Mittelweg 177
20148 Hamburg

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Hamburg Hamburg Hamburg
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
No data

Partners (1)