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Geographic structure and dynamics of coevolutionary selection

Naturevolume 417pages735738 (2002) | Download Citation



Coevolution of species is one of the major processes organizing the Earth's biodiversity. Recent coevolutionary theory has indicated that the geographic structure of species has the potential to impose powerful and continuing effects on coevolutionary dynamics, if that structure creates selection mosaics and coevolutionary hotspots across landscapes1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Here we confirm that current coevolutionary selection in interspecific interactions can be highly divergent across both narrow and broad geographic scales, thereby fuelling continuing coevolution of taxa. Study of a widespread plant–insect interaction across a broad range of habitats for several years showed that an insect functioning both as a pollinator and a floral parasite can be strongly mutualistic in some habitats but commensal or antagonistic in neighbouring habitats. The results for one of the habitats span seven years, demonstrating that the local structure of coevolutionary selection can remain stable across multiple generations. Conservation of the evolutionary processes maintaining long-term biological diversity may require preservation of the conditions that allow a long-term shifting geographic mosaic of coevolutionary hotspots and coldspots.

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We thank D. Althoff, E. Bartlett, R. Beck, N. Bonilla, S. Bradford, C. Clark, C. Cody, M. Jacoby, S. Lambert, Y. Martinez, K. Merg, S. Nuismer, J. Olmstead, S. Ringo, K. Segraves, D. Shepard, Z. Stanley and T. Steury for help in the field or laboratory, and R. Calsbeek, D. Hembry, K. Horjus, R. Hufft, N. Janz, K. Merg, S. Nuismer and J. Richardson for helpful discussions on the manuscript. We are grateful for permissions from the Clearwater, Nez Perce, Payette, Salmon, and Umatilla National Forests and from the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. This work was supported by the NSF.

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  1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Earth and Marine Sciences Building, University of California, Santa Cruz, California, 95064, USA

    • John N. Thompson
  2. School of Life Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, 99164, USA

    • Bradley M. Cunningham


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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to John N. Thompson.

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