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Keywords:

  • Coevolution;
  • geographic variation;
  • host use;
  • larval dispersal;
  • local adaptation;
  • selection

Abstract

The study of interactions between small invertebrates and their larger plant and animal hosts has a long tradition. One persistent theme within this literature is that spatially-segregated populations of terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates commonly adapt to local hosts across their geographic ranges. Marine examples are rare, which leaves the impression that marine populations are less likely to adapt to locally abundant hosts and more likely to evolve generalized or phenotypically-plastic strategies. Here, I review a short but growing list of marine invertebrates that appear to display local adaptation in host use. As expected, most of the marine examples are brooded animals with weak dispersal potential. However, some species with pelagically dispersed larvae have apparently adapted to local hosts. This surprising result is consistent with recent evidence that pelagically-dispersed larvae are not always broadly dispersed, that strong selective pressures maintain local differences in host use, or both. The presence of host-mediated adaptation in the sea alters predictions on how marine communities respond to disturbance, supports the notion that marine consumer-prey interactions can coevolve, and indicates that hosts play fundamental roles in the differentiation and perhaps speciation of small marine invertebrates.