In many vertebrate systems, early experience has been linked to the learning of species-specific traits that are subsequently assessed during mate choice, thus ensuring conspecific matings. In invertebrate systems, however, early experience was not thought to play a role in mate choice until a recent study using Schizocosa uetzi Stratton 1997 wolf spiders demonstrated that females mate more readily with males of a familiar versus unfamiliar phenotype. The function of early mate choice learning in this system is not yet known, but a role in learning species-specific traits seems unlikely. In northwestern Mississippi, S. uetzi is found sympatrically with S. stridulans Stratton 1991, which matures slightly earlier in the season. If S. uetzi early mate choice learning functions in learning species-specific traits used in mate choice, as is often the case in vertebrate systems, then subadult female exposure to heterospecifics (S. stridulans) could result in heterospecific matings. Here, I exposed subadult S. uetzi females to courtship advances from mature males of either S. uetzi (conspecifics) or S. stridulans (heterospecifics) in order to test a species-specific mate choice learning function. Previously exposed females were paired with a mature male of the same, or the opposite, species as their exposure male. As expected, the results do not support a species-specific mate choice learning function. Previously exposed females mated significantly more with conspecific males regardless of their exposure treatment, as did unexposed females. The highest pre-mating sexual cannibalism rates occurred in heterospecific mate choice trials regardless of the exposure treatment, and exposed females were more likely to cannibalize males than unexposed females. While previous results demonstrate that subadult experience influences conspecific mate choice, a species recognition template seems to exist that is independent of the influence of early experience. The potential influence of multimodal signal interactions on conspecific mate choice learning is discussed.
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