Journal Article Reversal of mutualism in a leafflower-leafflower moth association: the possible driving role of a third-party partner

Kawakita, Atsushi  ,  Mochizuki, Ko  ,  Kato, Makoto

116 ( 3 )  , pp.507 - 518 , 2015-11 , wiley
Article first published online: 7 AUG 2015
A major goal in the study of mutualism is to understand how co-operation is maintained when mutualism may potentially turn into parasitism. Although certain mechanisms facilitate the persistence of mutualism, parasitic species have repeatedly evolved from mutualistic ancestors. However, documented examples of mutualism reversals are still rare. Leafflowers (Phyllantheae; Phyllanthaceae) include approximately 500 species that engage in obligate mutualism with leafflower moths (Epicephala; Gracillariidae), which actively pollinate flowers, and whose larvae feed on the resulting seeds. We found that the Taiwanese population of the Phyllanthus reticulatus species complex was associated with six sympatric Epicephala species, of which three were derived parasites that induced gall formation on flowers/buds and produced no seeds. Notably, two parasitic species have retained mutualistic pollination behaviour, suggesting that the parasitism was likely not selected for to reduce the cost of mutualism. We propose that the galling habit evolved as an adaptation to escape parasitism by a specialized braconid wasp. The tough gall produced by one species was almost free of braconid parasitism, and the swollen gall induced by the other species probably prevents attack as a result of the larger airspace inside the gall. Our findings suggest that the presence of a third-party partner can greatly influence the evolutionary fate of mutualisms, regardless of whether the pairwise interaction continues to favour co-operation.

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