Mutualisms drive plant trait evolution beyond interaction-related traits

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14379
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • ants
  • macroevolution
  • mutualism
  • phylogenetic comparative methods
  • plants
  • symbiosis
  • trait evolution


Dive into the research topics of 'Mutualisms drive plant trait evolution beyond interaction-related traits'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this