Predictable patterns of trait mismatches between interacting plants and insects

Anderson, Bruce ; Terblanche, John S. ; Ellis, Allan G. (2010-07)

Includes bibliography.

Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.


Background: There are few predictions about the directionality or extent of morphological trait (mis)matches between interacting organisms. We review and analyse studies on morphological trait complementarity (e.g. floral tube length versus insect mouthpart length) at the population and species level. Results: Plants have consistently more exaggerated morphological traits than insects at high trait magnitudes and in some cases less exaggerated traits than insects at smaller trait magnitudes. This result held at the population level, as well as for phylogenetically adjusted analyses at the species-level and for both pollination and host-parasite interactions, perhaps suggesting a general pattern. Across communities, the degree of trait mismatch between one specialist plant and its more generalized pollinator was related to the level of pollinator specialization at each site; the observed pattern supports the "life-dinner principle" of selection acting more strongly on species with more at stake in the interaction. Similarly, plant mating system also affected the degree of trait correspondence because selfing reduces the reliance on pollinators and is analogous to pollination generalization. Conclusions: Our analyses suggest that there are predictable "winners" and "losers" of evolutionary arms races and the results of this study highlight the fact that breeding system and the degree of specialization can influence the outcome.

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