Evolution of allo-maternal in social spiders
Background: In the social spiders, individuals form permanent groups, and females are toti-potent, which means they can take on all tasks in the group. Usually only a fraction of females become reproducers, whereas the remaining females care for the offspring even though there are not their own. The phenomenon of allo-maternal brood care includes not only capturing prey that is given over to the spiderlings but also regurgitation feeding, by which the spiderlings are fed with pre-digested food. Ultimately, helpers and mothers are consumed by the spiderlings, termed suicidal maternal care. Allo-maternal care entails the most significant adaptations to group living in spiders.
What are the morphological adaptations to allo-maternal regurgitation feeding and matriphagy? In solitary species, only females that produced an eggsac performed offspring care; this implies that the transition to permanent sociality and cooperative brood care involves a physiological transition in non-reproducing females to perform allo-maternal care. I investigated the morphological adaptations in solitary and social species that enable regurgitation feeding and ultimately matriphagy, and also which cues trigger the offspring to start consumption of mothers and helpers.
I am investigating if the transformation of the digestive system during regurgitation feeding occurs similarly in helpers and mothers, and at which point during maternal care disintegration of her body starts using state-of –the-art histological and transmission electron microscopy techniques.