Aim Specialized mutualistic clades may revert and thus increase their autonomy and generalist characteristics. However, our understanding of the drivers that trigger reductions in mutualistic traits and of the consequences for the tolerance of these species to various environmental conditions remains limited. This study investigates the relationship between the environmental niche and the degree of myrmecophily (i.e. the ability to interact with ants) among members of the Lycaenidae.
Location The western Swiss Alps.
Methods We measured the tolerance of Lycaenidae species to low temperatures by comparing observations from a random stratified field sampling with climatic maps. We then compared the species-specific degree of myrmecophily with the species range limits at colder temperatures while controlling for phylogenetic dependence. We further evaluated whether the community-averaged degree of myrmecophily increases with temperature, as would be expected in the case of environmental filters acting on myrmecophilous species.
Results Twenty-nine Lycaenidae species were found during sampling. Ancestral state reconstruction indicated that the 24 species of Polyommatinae displayed both strong myrmecophily and secondary loss of mutualism; these species were used in the subsequent statistical analyses. Species with a higher degree of ant interaction were, on average, more likely to inhabit warmer sites. Species inhabiting the coldest environments displayed little or no interaction with ants.
Main conclusions Colder climates at high elevations filter out species with a high degree of myrmecophily and may have been the direct evolutionary force that promoted the loss of mutualism. A larger taxon sampling across the Holarctic may help to distinguish between the ecological and evolutionary effects of climate.