Standing genetic variation in host preference for mutualist microbial symbionts Article

Simonsen, AK, Stinchcombe, JR. (2014). Standing genetic variation in host preference for mutualist microbial symbionts . PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 281(1797), 10.1098/rspb.2014.2036

cited authors

  • Simonsen, AK; Stinchcombe, JR



  • Many models of mutualisms show that mutualisms are unstable if hosts lack mechanisms enabling preferential associations with mutualistic symbiotic partners over exploitative partners. Despite the theoretical importance of mutualism-stabilizing mechanisms, we have little empirical evidence to infer their evolutionary dynamics in response to exploitation by non-beneficial partners. Using a model mutualism—the interaction between legumes and nitrogen-fixing soil symbionts—we tested for quantitative genetic variation in plant responses to mutualistic and exploitative symbiotic rhizobia in controlled greenhouse conditions. We found significant broad-sense heritability in a legume host’s preferential association with mutualistic over exploitative symbionts and selection to reduce frequency of associations with exploitative partners. We failed to detect evidence that selection will favour the loss of mutualism-stabilizing mechanisms in the absence of exploitation, as we found no evidence for a fitness cost to the host trait or indirect selection on genetically correlated traits. Our results show that genetic variation in the ability to preferentially reduce associations with an exploitative partner exists within mutualismsand isunder selection, indicating thatmicro-evolutionary responses in mutualism-stabilizing traits in the face of rapidly evolving mutualistic and exploitative symbiotic bacteria can occur in natural host populations.

publication date

  • October 29, 2014

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


  • 281


  • 1797