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Habitat complexity and complex signal function – exploring the role of ornamentation

Cite this dataset

Wilgers, Dustin; Watts, J. Colton; Hebets, Eileen (2021). Habitat complexity and complex signal function – exploring the role of ornamentation [Dataset]. Dryad.


Animals often communicate in complex, heterogeneous environments, leading to hypothesized selection for increased detectability or discriminability in signaling traits. The extent to which secondary sexual ornaments have evolved to overcome the challenges of signaling in complex environments, however, remains understudied, especially in comparison to their role as indicator traits. This study tested the hypothesis that the condition-dependent secondary sexual ornamentation in the wolf spider Rabidosa rabida functions to increase detectability/discriminability in visually complex environments. We predicted that male ornamentation would interact with the complexity of the signaling environment to affect male mating success. In particular, we expected ornaments to confer a greater mating advantage when males courted in visually complex environments. To test this, we artificially manipulated male foreleg ornamentation (present/absent) and ran repeated-measures mating trials across laboratory microcosms that represented simple versus complex visual signaling environments. Microcosm visual complexity differed in their background pattern, grass stem color and grass stem placement. We found that ornamented males mated more often and more quickly than unornamented males across both environments, but we found no support for an ornament-by-environment interaction. Male courtship rate, however, did interact with the signaling environment. Despite achieving the same level of mating success across signaling environments, ornamented males courted less rapidly in complex versus simple environments, while environmental complexity had no influence on unornamented male courtship rates. Our results suggest that the visual complexity of the signaling environment influences the interactive influence of ornamentation and dynamic visual courtship on female mate choice.


This dataset was collected by live-scoring mating trials between male and female Rabidosa rabida wolf spiders. Males were assigned to one of two ornamentation treatments (ornamented/unornamented), corresponding to the color their forelegs were painted (black or brown, respectively). Each male then completed two mating trials, one in a simple microcosm and one in a complex microcosm, in random order. The dataset has been processed such that it includes only males that completed the entirity of the experiment (i.e., were assayed in both simple and complex microcosm types).

Usage notes

We have uploaded a ReadMe file that includes the a list of abbreviations used in the dataset.