Rapid plant evolution driven by the interaction of pollination and herbivory

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Science  12 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6436, pp. 193-196
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav6962

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Adaptation by way of compromise

Many plants rely on animal pollinators to spread pollen and increase the genetic diversity of their offspring. However, there are trade-offs, because attracting pollinators may also attract herbivores and deterring predation may diminish floral displays. Ramos and Schiestl studied the interplay between mating system, flowers, and chemical defenses over several generations in Brassica rapa plants (see the Perspective by Ågren). Evolution driven by pollination and herbivory can be observed after only eight generations, suggesting that trade-offs have large evolutionary consequences.

Science, this issue p. 193; see also p. 122


Pollination and herbivory are both key drivers of plant diversity but are traditionally studied in isolation from each other. We investigated real-time evolutionary changes in plant traits over six generations by using fast-cycling Brassica rapa plants and manipulating the presence and absence of bumble bee pollinators and leaf herbivores. We found that plants under selection by bee pollinators evolved increased floral attractiveness, but this process was compromised by the presence of herbivores. Plants under selection from both bee pollinators and herbivores evolved higher degrees of self-compatibility and autonomous selfing, as well as reduced spatial separation of sexual organs (herkogamy). Overall, the evolution of most traits was affected by the interaction of bee pollination and herbivory, emphasizing the importance of the cross-talk between both types of interactions for plant evolution.

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