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Asynchronous Diversification in a Specialized Plant-Pollinator Mutualism

Science  23 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6050, pp. 1742-1746
DOI: 10.1126/science.1209175

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Abstract

Most flowering plants establish mutualistic associations with insect pollinators to facilitate sexual reproduction. However, the evolutionary processes that gave rise to these associations remain poorly understood. We reconstructed the times of divergence, diversification patterns, and interaction networks of a diverse group of specialized orchids and their bee pollinators. In contrast to a scenario of coevolution by race formation, we show that fragrance-producing orchids originated at least three times independently after their fragrance-collecting bee mutualists. Whereas orchid diversification has apparently tracked the diversification of orchids’ bee pollinators, bees appear to have depended on the diverse chemical environment of neotropical forests. We corroborated this apparent asymmetrical dependency by simulating co-extinction cascades in real interaction networks that lacked reciprocal specialization. These results suggest that the diversification of insect-pollinated angiosperms may have been facilitated by the exploitation of preexisting sensory biases of insect pollinators.

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