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Evolution of obligate pollination mutualism in the tribe Phyllantheae (Phyllanthaceae)


Atsushi Kawakita


The landmark discovery of obligate pollination mutualism between Glochidion plants and Epicephala moths has sparked increased interest in the pollination systems of Phyllantheae plants. In this paper I review current information on the natural history and evolutionary history of obligate pollination mutualism in Phyllantheae. Currently, an estimated >500 species are mutualistic with Epicephala moths that actively pollinate flowers and whose progeny feed on the resulting seeds. The Phyllantheae also includes species that are not mutualistic with Epicephala moths and are instead pollinated by bees and/or flies or ants. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that the mutualism evolved independently five times within Phyllantheae, whereas active pollination behavior, a key innovation in this mutualism, evolved once in Epicephala. Reversal of mutualism has occurred at least once in both partner lineages, involving a Breynia species that evolved an alternative pollination system and a derived clade of Epicephala that colonized ant-pollinated Phyllantheae hosts and thereby lost the pollinating habit. The plant–moth association is highly species specific, although a strict one-to-one assumption is not perfectly met. A comparison of plant and moth phylogenies suggests signs of parallel speciation, but partner switches have occurred repeatedly at a range of taxonomic levels. Overall, the remarkable species diversity and multiple originations of the mutualism provide excellent opportunities to address many important questions on mutualism and the coevolutionary process. Although research on the biology of the mutualism is still in its infancy, the Phyllantheae–Epicephala association holds promise as a new model system in ecology and evolutionary biology.