Cheating and the evolutionary stability of mutualisms

Ferriere, R., Bronstein, J.L., Rinaldi, S., Law, R., & Gauduchon, M. (2002). Cheating and the evolutionary stability of mutualisms. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 269 (1493) 773-780. 10.1098/rspb.2001.1900.

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Interspecific mutualisms have been playing a central role in the functioning of all ecosystems since the early history of life. Yet the theory of coevolution of mutualists is virtually nonexistent, by contrast with well-developed coevolutionary theories of competition, predator-prey and host-parasite interactions. This has prevented resolution of a basic puzzle posed by mutualisms: their persistence in spite of apparent evolutionary instability. The selective advantage of cheating, that is, reaping mutualistic benefits while providing fewer commodities to the partner species, is commonly believed to erode a mutualistic interaction, leading to its dissolution or reciprocal extinction. However, recent empirical findings indicate that stable associations of mutualists and cheaters have existed over long evolutionary periods. Here, we show that asymmetrical competition within species for the commodities offered by mutualistic partners provides a simple and testable ecological mechanism that can account for the long-term persistence of mutualisms. Cheating, in effect, establishes a background against which better mutualists can display any competitive superiority. This can lead to the coexistence and divergence of mutualist and cheater phenotypes, as well as to the coexistence of ecologically similar, but unrelated mutualists and cheaters.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Mutualism; Evolutionary Stability; Cheating; Asymmetrical competition; Evolutionary branching
Research Programs: Adaptive Dynamics Network (ADN)
Bibliographic Reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences; 269(1493):773-780 (22 April 2002)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 02:14
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:37

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