• adaptive dynamics theory;
  • legumes;
  • life-history evolution;
  • mutualism;
  • rhizobia;
  • symbiosis


While strategy variation is a key feature of symbiotic mutualisms, little work focuses on the origin of this diversity. Rhizobia strategies range from mutualistic nitrogen fixers to parasitic nonfixers that hoard plant resources to increase their own survival in soil. Host plants reward beneficial rhizobia with higher nodule growth rates, generating a trade-off between reproduction in nodules and subsequent survival in soil. However, hosts might not discriminate between strains in mixed infections, allowing nonfixing strains to escape sanctions. We construct an adaptive dynamics model of symbiotic nitrogen-fixation and find general situations where symbionts undergo adaptive diversification, but in most situations complete nonfixers do not evolve. Social conflict in mixed infections when symbionts face a survival–reproduction trade-off can drive the origin of some coexisting symbiont strategies, where less mutualistic strains exploit benefits generated by better mutualists.