Interactions between seed predators/pollinators and their host plants: a first step towards mutualism?


  • Anna Westerbergh,

  • Johan Westerbergh

A. Westerbergh, Dept of Plant Biology, Swedish Agricultural Univ., Box 7080, SE-750 07 Uppsala, Sweden ( – J. Westerbergh, Pharmacia Diagnostics AB, Medical Regulatory Affairs, Biometrics, SE-751 82 Uppsala, Sweden.


The mutualisms between fig trees and their pollinator fig wasps and between yucca plants and yucca moths are spectacular examples of coevolution. The characteristics of these independently evolved mutualisms have resulted from long-term processes, the first stages of which are unknown. A fundamental question in the study of mutualism is how these interactions evolve. Seed predator/pollinator and host plant interactions, which may initially be considered as mainly antagonistic, have the potential to provide good model systems for the study of the first stages of evolution towards mutualism. We present here theoretical models assessing the consequences of interactions between specialized seed predator insects and their host plants. These models describe the parameters that affect the fitness of an individual female seed predator and her influence on the fitness of the host plant. In an optimal strategy for the seed predator, the number of eggs laid in each flower depends on the interaction between the adult and larva survival. Along with a growing predation pressure on adults and larvae several eggs must be laid in each flower by the female seed predator to enhance her fitness. However, in a situation where the host plant selectively aborts flowers with a high number of eggs the fitness of the seed predator will seriously decrease. If the cost of selective abortion is less than the cost of seed predation the host plant will maintain fitness. In a mutualistic relationship a balance between the cost and the benefit of the parameters in the fitness models of the seed predator and the host plant has to occur so that the net seed output is larger than zero (0). Any unselfish behaviour or quality of the seed predator that would benefit the host plant in such a way that the net seed output increases might be a first stage in an interaction becoming mutualistic. The models presented here will not only provide a platform for empirical studies on interactions that may swing from parasitism to mutualism, but also for seed predator/pollinator and host plant interactions in general.