Get access

Assessment of the diversity and species specificity of the mutualistic association between Epicephala moths and Glochidion trees


Atsushi Kawakita, Fax: +81-75-753-6722; E-mail:


The obligate mutualisms between flowering plants and their seed-parasitic pollinators constitute fascinating examples of interspecific mutualisms, which are often characterized by high levels of species diversity and reciprocal species specificity. The diversification in these mutualisms has been thought to occur through simultaneous speciation of the partners, mediated by tight reciprocal adaptation; however, recent studies cast doubt over this general view. In this study, we examine the diversity and species specificity of Epicephala moths (Gracillariidae) that pollinate Glochidion trees (Phyllanthaceae), using analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear gene sequences. Phylogenetic analysis of Epicephala moths associated with five Glochidion species in Japan and Taiwan reveal six genetically isolated species that are also distinguishable by male genital morphology: (i) two species specific to single host species (G. acuminatum and G. zeylanicum, respectively); (ii) two species that coexist on G. lanceolatum; and (iii) two species that share two, closely-related parapatric hosts (G. obovatum and G. rubrum). Statistical analysis shows that the two species associated with G. lanceolatum are not sister species, indicating the colonization of novel Glochidion host in at least one lineage. Behavioural observations suggest that all six species possess the actively-pollinating habit, thus none of the studied species has become a nonmutualistic ‘cheater’ that exploits the benefit resulting from pollination by other species. Our results parallel recent findings in ecologically similar associations, namely the fig–fig wasp and yucca–yucca moth mutualisms, and contribute to a more general understanding of the factors that determine ecological and evolutionary outcomes in these mutualisms.