Mutualisms are interactions from which both partners benefit but may collapse if mutualists’ costs and benefits are not aligned. Host sanctions are one mechanism whereby hosts selectively allocate resources to the more cooperative partners and thereby reduce the fitness of overexploiters; however, many mutualisms lack apparent means of host sanctions. In mutualisms between plants and pollinating seed parasites, such as those between leafflowers and leafflower moths, pollinators consume subsets of the seeds as larval food in return for their pollination service. Plants may select against overexploiters by selectively aborting flowers with a heavy egg load, but in many leafflower species, seeds are fully eaten in some fruits, suggesting that such a mechanism is not present in all species. Instead, the fruits of Breynia vitis-idaea have stalk-like structures (gynophore) through which early-instar moth larvae must bore to reach seeds. Examination of moth mortality in fruits with different gynophore lengths suggested that fruits with longer gynophore had higher moth mortality and, therefore, less seed damage. Most moth mortality occurred at the egg stage or as early larval instar before moths reached the seeds, consistent with the view that gynophore functions to prevent moth access to seeds. Gynophore length was unaffected by plant size, extent of moth oviposition, or geography; thus, it is most likely genetically controlled. Because gynophores do not elongate in related species whose pollinators oviposit directly into the ovary, the gynophore in B. vitis-idaea may have evolved as a defense to limit the cost of the mutualism.
Oecologia – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 14, 2017
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