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Biased oviposition and biased survival together help resolve a fig-wasp conflict

Wang, H., Ridley, J., Dunn, D. W., Wang, R., Cook, J. M. and Yu, D. W. (2013) Biased oviposition and biased survival together help resolve a fig-wasp conflict. Oikos, 122 (4). pp. 533-540. ISSN 1600-0706

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2012.20463.x


We report evidence that helps resolve two competing explanations for stability in the mutualism between Ficus racemosa fig trees and the Ceratosolen fusciceps wasps that pollinate them. The wasps lay eggs in the tree's ovules, with each wasp larva developing at the expense of a fig seed. Upon maturity, the female wasps collect pollen and disperse to a new tree, continuing the cycle. Fig fitness is increased by producing both seeds and female wasps, whereas short-term wasp fitness increases only with more wasps, thereby resulting in a conflict of interests. We show experimentally that wasps exploit the inner layers of ovules first (the biased oviposition explanation), which is consistent with optimal-foraging theory. As oviposition increases, seeds in the middle layer are replaced on a one-to-one basis by pollinator offspring, which is also consistent with biased oviposition. Finally, in the outer layer of ovules, seeds disappear but are only partially replaced by pollinator offspring, which suggests high wasp mortality (the biased survival or ‘unbeatable seeds’ explanation). Our results therefore suggest that both biased oviposition and biased survival ensure seed production, thereby stabilizing the mutualism. We further argue that biased oviposition can maintain biased survival by selecting against wasp traits to overcome fig defenses. Finally, we report evidence suggesting that F. racemosa balances seed and wasp production at the level of the tree. Because figs are probably selected to allocate equally to male and female function, a 1:1 seed:wasp ratio suggests that fig trees are in control of the mutualism.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:35478

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