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Molecular species delimitation of a symbiotic fig-pollinating wasp species complex reveals extreme deviation from reciprocal partner specificity

Darwell, C. T., al Beidh, S. and Cook, J. M. (2014) Molecular species delimitation of a symbiotic fig-pollinating wasp species complex reveals extreme deviation from reciprocal partner specificity. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 14. 189. ISSN 1471-2148

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1186/s12862-014-0189-9


Background: Symbiotic relationships have contributed to major evolutionary innovations, the maintenance of fundamental ecosystem functions, and the generation and maintenance of biodiversity. However, the exact nature of host/symbiont associations, which has important consequences for their dynamics, is often poorly known due to limited understanding of symbiont taxonomy and species diversity. Among classical symbioses, figs and their pollinating wasps constitute a highly diverse keystone resource in tropical forest and savannah environments. Historically, they were considered to exemplify extreme reciprocal partner specificity (one-to-one host-symbiont species relationships), but recent work has revealed several more complex cases. However, there is a striking lack of studies with the specific aims of assessing symbiont diversity and how this varies across the geographic range of the host. Results: Here, we use molecular methods to investigate cryptic diversity in the pollinating wasps of a widespread Australian fig species. Standard barcoding genes and methods were not conclusive, but incorporation of phylogenetic analyses and a recently developed nuclear barcoding gene (ITS2), gave strong support for five pollinator species. Each pollinator species was most common in a different geographic region, emphasising the importance of wide geographic sampling to uncover diversity, and the scope for divergence in coevolutionary trajectories across the host plant range. In addition, most regions had multiple coexisting pollinators, raising the question of how they coexist in apparently similar or identical resource niches. Conclusion: Our study offers a striking example of extreme deviation from reciprocal partner specificity over the full geographical range of a fig-wasp system. It also suggests that superficially identical species may be able to co-exist in a mutualistic setting albeit at different frequencies in relation to their fig host’s range. We show that comprehensive sampling and molecular taxonomic techniques may be required to uncover the true structure of cryptic biodiversity underpinning intimate ecological interactions.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:37620
Publisher:BioMed Central Ltd


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