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Mutualisms drive plant trait evolution beyond interaction‐related traits

Burin, Gustavo; Campbell, Laura C. E.; Renner, Susanne S.; Kiers, E. Toby; Chomicki, Guillaume

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Gustavo Burin

Laura Campbell
PGR Student Doctor of Philosophy

Susanne S. Renner

E. Toby Kiers


Mutualisms have driven the evolution of extraordinary structures and behavioural traits, but their impact on traits beyond those directly involved in the interaction remains unclear. We addressed this gap using a highly evolutionarily replicated system – epiphytes in the Rubiaceae forming symbioses with ants. We employed models that allow us to test the influence of discrete mutualistic traits on continuous non‐mutualistic traits. Our findings are consistent with mutualism shaping the pace of morphological evolution, strength of selection and long‐term mean of non‐mutualistic traits in function of mutualistic dependency. While specialised and obligate mutualisms are associated with slower trait change, less intimate, facultative and generalist mutualistic interactions – which are the most common – have a greater impact on non‐mutualistic trait evolution. These results challenge the prevailing notion that mutualisms solely affect the evolution of interaction‐related traits via stabilizing selection and instead demonstrate a broader role for mutualisms in shaping trait evolution.


Burin, G., Campbell, L. C. E., Renner, S. S., Kiers, E. T., & Chomicki, G. (2024). Mutualisms drive plant trait evolution beyond interaction‐related traits. Ecology Letters, 27(2), Article e14379.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 15, 2024
Online Publication Date Feb 5, 2024
Publication Date 2024-02
Deposit Date Mar 14, 2024
Publicly Available Date Mar 14, 2024
Journal Ecology Letters
Print ISSN 1461-023X
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Issue 2
Article Number e14379
Public URL


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