Inferring evolutionary patterns from the biogeographical distributions of mutualists and exploiters
Exploitation may lead to the breakdown of obligate species-specific mutualisms. However, the mutualism between Roridula (plants) and Pameridea (hemipterans) is often exploited by spiders. The aim of the present study was to determine when the exploiters became associated with the Roridula-Pameridea mutualism. The phylogenetic and geographical associations between Roridula and Pameridea are documented and the distribution patterns of Roridula and exploiters are overlaid to see how closely they correlate. A geographical discontinuity in Roridulas' range divides both the host plants and associated hemipterans into two sister species so that each hemipteran species is associated with a different plant species. This suggests that Roridula was associated with Pameridea before fragmentation/vicariance events split the genus, allowing allopatric speciation. By contrast, Roridula is only associated with exploiters in parts of its current range. This suggests that exploiters are unable to traverse the disjunctions in Roridulas' distribution and that they only developed associations with the mutualism after vicariance events. It is hypothesized that Pameridea and Roridula were closely associated for a long period before the invasion of nonmutualists. The absence of associated nonmutualist species may have helped facilitate the evolution of an obligate interaction between Roridula and Pameridea. © 2006 The Linnean Society of London.