Using ant/plant symbioses to understand cooperation among species


Widespread in nature, mutualistic associations –cooperative interactions between unrelated species– are linked to major evolutionary transitions in life history, and are pivotal for ecosystem functioning. The evolution of mutualisms has long been a riddle: while they are thought to be prone to breakdown, some have persisted for millions of years. Theory predicts that mutualists frequently turn into parasites and exploit their partner. Whether or not cheating is an important selective force in mutualism is hotly debated. Besides cheating, a number of other factors could lead to conflict and threaten mutualism. I use ant/plant symbioses to understand the evolution and stability of mutualisms.

Drawing on examples from my research, I highlight two very distinct ways to cooperate in coexisting Fijian ant/plant symbioses. One strategy involves a complex, highly-dependent farming mutualism wherein partner fitnesses are aligned by several mechanisms, while the other consists of a facultative mutualism that maintains cooperation by minimizing competition between alternative generalist ant species.

For information contact:


Date:        13 March 2018

Time:        15.45 hours

Speaker:  Dr. Guillaume Chomicki, University of Oxford

Topic:        Using ant/plant symbioses to understand cooperation among species

Location:  Room F647, W&N building VU Amsterdam