Ecological interactions are evolutionary conserved across the entire tree

Departamento de Ecología, Universidad de Granada, E-18071 Granada, Spain.
Nature (Impact Factor: 41.46). 06/2010; 465(7300):918-21. DOI: 10.1038/nature09113
Source: PubMed


Ecological interactions are crucial to understanding both the ecology and the evolution of organisms. Because the phenotypic traits regulating species interactions are largely a legacy of their ancestors, it is widely assumed that ecological interactions are phylogenetically conserved, with closely related species interacting with similar partners. However, the existing empirical evidence is inadequate to appropriately evaluate the hypothesis of phylogenetic conservatism in ecological interactions, because it is both ecologically and taxonomically biased. In fact, most studies on the evolution of ecological interactions have focused on specialized organisms, such as some parasites or insect herbivores, belonging to a limited subset of the overall tree of life. Here we study the evolution of host use in a large and diverse group of interactions comprising both specialist and generalist acellular, unicellular and multicellular organisms. We show that, as previously found for specialized interactions, generalized interactions can be evolutionarily conserved. Significant phylogenetic conservatism of interaction patterns was equally likely to occur in symbiotic and non-symbiotic interactions, as well as in mutualistic and antagonistic interactions. Host-use differentiation among species was higher in phylogenetically conserved clades, irrespective of their generalization degree and taxonomic position within the tree of life. Our findings strongly suggest a shared pattern in the organization of biological systems through evolutionary time, mediated by marked conservatism of ecological interactions among taxa.

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