Data from: Limited gene dispersal and spatial genetic structure as stabilizing factors in an ant-plant mutualism
Malé, Pierre-Jean G. et al. (2016), Data from: Limited gene dispersal and spatial genetic structure as stabilizing factors in an ant-plant mutualism, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.20ck4
Comparative studies of the population genetics of closely associated species are necessary to properly understand the evolution of these relationships because gene flow between populations affects the partners' evolutionary potential at the local scale. As a consequence (at least for antagonistic interactions), asymmetries in the strength of the genetic structures of the partner populations can result in one partner having a co-evolutionary advantage. Here, we assess the population genetic structure of partners engaged in a species-specific and obligatory mutualism: the Neotropical ant-plant, Hirtella physophora, and its ant associate, Allomerus decemarticulatus. Although the ant cannot complete its life cycle elsewhere than on H. physophora and the plant cannot live for long without the protection provided by A. decemarticulatus, these species also have antagonistic interactions: the ants have been shown to benefit from castrating their host plant and the plant is able to retaliate against too virulent ant colonies. We found similar short dispersal distances for both partners, resulting in the local transmission of the association and, thus, inbred populations in which too virulent castrating ants face the risk of local extinction due to the absence of H. physophora offspring. On the other hand, we show that the plant populations probably experienced greater gene flow than did the ant populations, thus enhancing the evolutionary potential of the plants. We conclude that such levels of spatial structure in the partners' populations can increase the stability of the mutualistic relationship. Indeed, the local transmission of the association enables partial alignments of the partners' interests, and population connectivity allows the plant retaliation mechanisms to be locally adapted to the castration behaviour of their symbionts.