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Keywords:

  • Adaptive radiation;
  • ecological speciation;
  • natural enemies;
  • plant–insect interactions;
  • symbiosis

Adaptive diversification is a process intrinsically tied to species interactions. Yet, the influence of most types of interspecific interactions on adaptive evolutionary diversification remains poorly understood. In particular, the role of mutualistic interactions in shaping adaptive radiations has been largely unexplored, despite the ubiquity of mutualisms and increasing evidence of their ecological and evolutionary importance. Our aim here is to encourage empirical inquiry into the relationship between mutualism and evolutionary diversification, using herbivorous insects and their microbial mutualists as exemplars. Phytophagous insects have long been used to test theories of evolutionary diversification; moreover, the diversification of a number of phytophagous insect lineages has been linked to mutualisms with microbes. In this perspective, we examine microbial mutualist mediation of ecological opportunity and ecologically based divergent natural selection for their insect hosts. We also explore the conditions and mechanisms by which microbial mutualists may either facilitate or impede adaptive evolutionary diversification. These include effects on the availability of novel host plants or adaptive zones, modifying host-associated fitness trade-offs during host shifts, creating or reducing enemy-free space, and, overall, shaping the evolution of ecological (host plant) specialization. Although the conceptual framework presented here is built on phytophagous insect–microbe mutualisms, many of the processes and predictions are broadly applicable to other mutualisms in which host ecology is altered by mutualistic interactions.