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Keywords:

  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi;
  • coevolution;
  • community dynamics;
  • diversity;
  • feedback;
  • frequency dependence;
  • guild dynamics;
  • mutualism

Numerical models have suggested that the dynamics within mutualisms are not important for the maintenance of diversity. In this study it is demonstrated that the dynamics within mutualism can contribute to the maintenance of diversity within its participants, using a general model of frequency dependence between two mutualistically interacting guilds. Specifically, it is demonstrated that while mutualisms may exhibit positive feedback in density, there may be a negative feedback within a mutualism as a result of the change in composition within the interacting guild. Such a negative feedback results from an asymmetry in the delivery of benefit between participants of the mutualism that generates a negative interguild frequency dependence. This dynamic contributes to the maintenance of diversity within the interacting guilds. Conditions are identified for the maintenance of diversity and the maximization of benefit from mutualism within the context of the model. The utility of these conditions for testing hypotheses using data from the mutualistic interaction between plants and mycorrhizal fungi is then demonstrated.