The importance of ecology in understanding sexual conflict: can predators scare amphipods and affect sexual conflict over mate guarding?
Sexual conflict is a situation where one sex negatively affects the fitness of the other sex. It has been proposed that the environment (e.g. predators, food availability, and competition) can affect the intensity sexual conflict; however, this area of ecology has not received much attention. Predation can significantly affect sexual conflict by changing the behavior of individuals as they avoid being detected by predators. The presence of predators may cause females to be more or less resistant to mating, thus increasing or decreasing sexual conflict. We studied the effects of dragonfly predators on sexual conflict over precopulatory mate guarding (PCMG) duration in amphipods (Hyalella sp.). Females prefer shorter PCMG durations than males. We will test how the presence of predators affects sexual conflict in amphipods by exposing small populations to one of two treatments; with predator cues or without. The number of encounters between the sexes and the number of PCMG pairs will be recorded. If predator cues cause a decrease in amphipod activity, sexual conflict will decrease because females will receive less harassment from males (i.e. we will observe fewer PCMG pairs). However, dragonflies may increase the "value" of PCMG to females because pairs are less likely to be eaten by dragonflies than single individuals. In this case, we might expect longer PCMG durations. Results will provide insights into how ecology affects the outcome of sexual conflict.