Host specificity, phenotype matching and the evolution of reproductive isolation in a coevolved plant–pollinator mutualism



Anna G. Himler, Fax: (520) 651-2590; E-mail:; Carlos A. Machado, Fax: (301) 314-9358; E-mail:


Coevolutionary interactions between plants and their associated pollinators and seed dispersers are thought to have promoted the diversification of flowering plants (Raven 1977; Regal 1977; Stebbins 1981). The actual mechanisms by which pollinators could drive species diversification in plants are not fully understood. However, it is thought that pollinator host specialization can influence the evolution of reproductive isolation among plant populations because the pollinator’s choice of host is what determines patterns of gene flow in its host plant, and host choice may also have important consequences on pollinator and host fitness (Grant 1949; Bawa 1992). In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Smith et al. (2009) present a very interesting study that addresses how host specialization affects pollinator fitness and patterns of gene flow in a plant host. Several aspects of this study match elements of a seminal mathematical model of plant–pollinator codivergence (Kiester et al. 1984) suggesting that reciprocal selection for matched plant and pollinator reproductive traits may lead to speciation in the host and its pollinator when there is strong host specialization and a pattern of geographic subdivision. Smith et al.’s study represents an important step to fill the gap in our understanding of how reciprocal selection may lead to speciation in coevolved plant–pollinator mutualisms.