Evolution of Cooperation

Elgar MA, Nash DR, Pierce NE. Eavesdropping on cooperative communication within an ant-butterfly mutualism. The Science of Nature [Internet]. 2016;103 :84. Publisher's VersionAbstract

DOI 10.1007/s00114-016-1409-5 

Kocher SD, Pellissier L, Veller C, Purcell J, Nowak MA, Chapuisat M, Pierce NE. Transitions in social complexity along elevational gradients reveal a combined impact of season length and development time on social evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 2014;281.Abstract

Eusociality is taxonomically rare, yet associated with great ecological success. Surprisingly, studies of environmental conditions favouring eusociality are often contradictory. Harsh conditions associated with increasing altitude and latitude seem to favour increased sociality in bumblebees and ants, but the reverse pattern is found in halictid bees and polistine wasps. Here, we compare the life histories and distributions of populations of 176 species of Hymenoptera from the Swiss Alps. We show that differences in altitudinal distributions and development times among social forms can explain these contrasting patterns: highly social taxa develop more quickly than intermediate social taxa, and are thus able to complete the reproductive cycle in shorter seasons at higher elevations. This dual impact of altitude and development time on sociality illustrates that ecological constraints can elicit dynamic shifts in behaviour, and helps explain the complex distribution of sociality across ecological gradients.

Archetti M, Scheuring I, Hoffman M, Frederickson ME, Pierce NE, Yu DW. Economic game theory for mutualism and cooperation. Ecology Letters. 2011;14 :1300-1312.Abstract

We review recent work at the interface of economic game theory and evolutionary biology that provides new insights into the evolution of partner choice, host sanctions, partner fidelity feedback and public goods. (1) The theory of games with asymmetrical information shows that the right incentives allow hosts to screen-out parasites and screen-in mutualists, explaining successful partner choice in the absence of signalling. Applications range from ant-plants to microbiomes. (2) Contract theory distinguishes two longstanding but weakly differentiated explanations of host response to defectors: host sanctions and partner fidelity feedback. Host traits that selectively punish misbehaving symbionts are parsimoniously interpreted as pre-adaptations. Yucca-moth and legume-rhizobia mutualisms are argued to be examples of partner fidelity feedback. (3) The theory of public goods shows that cooperation in multi-player interactions can evolve in the absence of assortment, in one-shot social dilemmas among non-kin. Applications include alarm calls in vertebrates and exoenzymes in microbes.

Archetti M, Ubeda F, Fudenberg D, Green J, Pierce NE, Yu DW. Let the Right One In: A Microeconomic Approach to Partner Choice in Mutualisms. American Naturalist. 2011;177 :75-85.Abstract

One of the main problems impeding the evolution of cooperation is partner choice. When information is asymmetric (the quality of a potential partner is known only to himself), it may seem that partner choice is not possible without signaling. Many mutualisms, however, exist without signaling, and the mechanisms by which hosts might select the right partners are unclear. Here we propose a general mechanism of partner choice, "screening," that is similar to the economic theory of mechanism design. Imposing the appropriate costs and rewards may induce the informed individuals to screen themselves according to their types and therefore allow a noninformed individual to establish associations with the correct partners in the absence of signaling. Several types of biological symbioses are good candidates for screening, including bobtail squid, ant-plants, gut microbiomes, and many animal and plant species that produce reactive oxygen species. We describe a series of diagnostic tests for screening. Screening games can apply to the cases where by-products, partner fidelity feedback, or host sanctions do not apply, therefore explaining the evolution of mutualism in systems where it is impossible for potential symbionts to signal their cooperativeness beforehand and where the host does not punish symbiont misbehavior.

Weyl EG, Frederickson ME, Yu DW, Pierce NE. Reply to Kiers et al.: Economic and biological clarity in the theory of mutualism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2011;108 :E8-E8. 2011_weyl_et_al_reply.pdf
Weyl EG, Frederickson ME, Yu DW, Pierce NE. Economic contract theory tests models of mutualism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2010;107 (36) :15712-15716.Abstract

Although mutualisms are common in all ecological communities and have played key roles in the diversification of life, our current understanding of the evolution of cooperation applies mostly to social behavior within a species. A central question is whether mutualisms persist because hosts have evolved costly punishment of cheaters. Here, we use the economic theory of employment contracts to formulate and distinguish between two mechanisms that have been proposed to prevent cheating in host–symbiont mutualisms, partner fidelity feedback (PFF) and host sanctions (HS). Under PFF, positive feedback between host fitness and symbiont fitness is sufficient to prevent cheating; in contrast, HS posits the necessity of costly punishment to maintain mutualism. A coevolutionary model of mutualism finds that HS are unlikely to evolve de novo, and published data on legume–rhizobia and yucca–moth mutualisms are consistent with PFF and not with HS. Thus, in systems considered to be textbook cases of HS, we find poor support for the theory that hosts have evolved to punish cheating symbionts; instead, we show that even horizontally transmitted mutualisms can be stabilized via PFF. PFF theory may place previously underappreciated constraints on the evolution of mutualism and explain why punishment is far from ubiquitous in nature.

Travassos MA, Devries PJ, Pierce NE. A novel organ and mechanism for larval sound production in butterfly caterpillars: Eurybia elvina(Lepidoptera: Riodinidae). Tropical Lepidoptera Research. 2008;18 :20-23.Abstract

Abstract – Eurybia elvina larvae produce substrate-borne vibrations by grating a cervical membrane studded with teeth against hemispherical protuberances scattered along the surface of the head.

Eastwood R, Pierce NE, Kitching RL, Hughes JM. Do ants enhance diversification in lycaenid butterflies? Phylogeographic evidence from a model myrmecophile, Jalmenus evagoras. Evolution. 2006;60 :315-327.Abstract

Abstract. The ant-tended Australian butterfly, Jalmenus evagoras, has been a model system for studying the ecology and evolution of mutualism. A phylogeographic analysis of mitochondrial DNA cytochrome oxidase I sequences from 242 butterflies (615 bp) and 66 attendant ants (585 bp) from 22 populations was carried out to explore the relationship between ant association and butterfly population structure. This analysis revealed 12 closely related butterfly haplotypes in three distinct clades roughly corresponding to three allopatric subpopulations of the butterflies. Minimal genetic diversity and widespread haplotypes within biogeographical regions suggest high levels of matrilineal gene flow. Attendant ants are significantly more diverse than was previously thought, with at least seven well-defined clades corresponding to independent morphological determinations, distributed throughout the range of the butterflies. Nested analysis of molecular variance showed that biogeography, host plant, and ant associate all contribute significantly in explaining variation in butterfly genetic diversity, but these variables are not independent of one another. Major influences appear to come from fragmentation due to large-scale biogeographical barriers, and diversification following a shift in habitat preference. A consequence of such a shift could be codiversification of the butterfly with habitatadapted ants, resulting in apparent phylogenetic concordance between butterflies and ants. The implications of these results are discussed in terms of possible effects of ant attendance on the diversification of Lycaenidae as a whole.

Quek SP, Davies SJ, Itino T, Pierce NE. Codiversification in an ant-plant mutualism: Stem texture and the evolution of host use in Crematogaster (Formicidae : Myrmicinae) inhabitants of Macaranga (Euphorbiaceae). Evolution. 2004;58 :554-570.Abstract

We investigate the evolution of host association in a cryptic complex of mutualistic Crematogaster (Decacrema) ants that inhabits and defends Macaranga trees in Southeast Asia. Previous phylogenetic studies based on limited samplings of Decacrema present conflicting reconstructions of the evolutionary history of the association, inferring both cospeciation and the predominance of host shifts. We use cytochrome oxidase I (COI) to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships in a comprehensive sampling of the Decacrema inhabitants of Macaranga. Using a published Macaranga phylogeny, we test whether the ants and plants have cospeciated. The COI phylogeny reveals 10 well-supported lineages and an absence of cospeciation. Host shifts, however, have been constrained by stem traits that are themselves correlated with Macaranga phylogeny. Earlier lineages of Decacrema exclusively inhabit waxy stems, a basal state in the Pachystemon clade within Macaranga, whereas younger species of Pachystemon, characterized by nonwaxy stems, are inhabited only by younger lineages of Decacrema. Despite the absence of cospeciation, the correlated succession of stem texture in both phylogenies suggests that Decacrema and Pachystemon have diversified in association, or codiversified. Subsequent to the colonization of the Pachystemon clade, Decacrema expanded onto a second clade within Macaranga, inducing the development of myrmecophytism in the Pruinosae group. Confinement to the aseasonal wet climate zone of western Malesia suggests myrmecophytic Macaranga are no older than the wet forest community in Southeast Asia, estimated to be about 20 million years old (early Miocene). Our calculation of COI divergence rates from several published arthropod studies that relied on tenable calibrations indicates a generally conserved rate of approximately 1.5% per million years. Applying this rate to a rate-smoothed Bayesian chronogram of the ants, the Decacrema from Macaranga are inferred to be at least 12 million years old (mid-Miocene). However, using the extremes of rate variation in COI produces an age as recent as 6 million years. Our inferred timeline based on 1.5% per million years concurs with independent biogeographical events in the region reconstructed from palynological data, thus suggesting that the evolutionary histories of Decacrema and their Pachystemon hosts have been contemporaneous since the mid-Miocene. The evolution of myrmecophytism enabled Macaranga to radiate into enemy-free space, while the ants' diversification has been shaped by stem traits, host specialization, and geographic factors. We discuss the possibility that the ancient and exclusive association between Decacrema and Macaranga was facilitated by an impoverished diversity of myrmecophytes and phytoecious (obligately plant inhabiting) ants in the region.

Als TD, Vila R, Kandul NP, Nash DR, Yen SH, Hsu YF, Mignault AA, Boomsma JJ, Pierce NE. The evolution of alternative parasitic life histories in large blue butterflies. Nature. 2004;432 :386-390.Abstract

Large blue (Maculinea) butterflies are highly endangered throughout the Palaearctic region, and have been the focus of intense conservation research(1-3). In addition, their extraordinary parasitic lifestyles make them ideal for studies of life history evolution. Early instars consume flower buds of specific host plants, but later instars live in ant nests where they either devour the brood (predators), or are fed mouth-to-mouth by the adult ants (cuckoos). Here we present the phylogeny for the group, which shows that it is a monophyletic clade nested within Phengaris, a rare Oriental genus whose species have similar life histories(4,5). Cuckoo species are likely to have evolved from predatory ancestors. As early as five million years ago, two Maculinea clades diverged, leading to the different parasitic strategies seen in the genus today. Contrary to current belief, the two recognized cuckoo species show little genetic divergence and are probably a single ecologically differentiated species(6-10). On the other hand, some of the predatory morphospecies exhibit considerable genetic divergence and may contain cryptic species. These findings have important implications for conservation and reintroduction efforts.

Campbell DL, Pierce NE. Phylogenetic relationships of the Riodinidae: Implications for the evolution of ant association. In: Butterflies as Model Systems. Chicago University Press ; 2003. pp. 395-408. 2003_campbell_and_pierce.pdf
Pierce NE, Braby MF, Heath A, Lohman DJ, Mathew J, Rand DB, Travassos MA. The ecology and evolution of ant association in the Lycaenidae (Lepidoptera). Annual Review of Entomology. 2002;47 :733-771.Abstract

The estimated 6000 species of Lycaenidae account for about one third of all Papilionoidea. The majority of lycaenids have associations with ants that can be facultative or obligate and range from mutualism to parasitism. Lycaenid larvae and pupae employ complex chemical and acoustical signals to manipulate ants. Cost/benefit analyses have demonstrated multiple trade-offs involved in myrmecophily. Both demographic and phylogenetic evidence indicate that ant association has shaped the evolution of obligately associated groups. Parasitism typically arises from mutualism with ants, arid entomophagous species are disproportionately common in the Lycaenidae compared with other Lepidoptera. Obligate associations are more common in the Southern Hemisphere, in part because highly ant-associated lineages make up a larger proportion of the fauna in these, regions. Further research on phylogeny and natural history, particularly of the Neotropical fauna, will be necessary to understand the rote ant association has played in the evolution of the Lycaenidae.

Fraser AM, Tregenza T, Wedell N, Elgar MA, Pierce NE. Oviposition tests of ant preference in a myrmecophilous butterfly. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 2002;15 :861-870.Abstract

Butterflies in the family Lycaenidae that have obligate associations with ants frequently exhibit ant-dependent egg laying behaviour. In a series of field and laboratory choice tests, we assessed oviposition preference of the Australian lycaenid Jalmenus evagoras in response to different species and populations of ants. Females discriminated between attendant and nonattendant ant species, between attendant ant species, and to some extent, between populations of a single ant species. When preferences were found, ovipositing butterflies preferred their locally predominant attendant ant species and geographically proximate attendant ant populations. A reciprocal choice test using adults from a generation of butterflies reared in the absence of ants indicated a genetic component to oviposition preference. Individual females were flexible with respect to oviposition site choice, often ovipositing on more than one treatment during a trial. Preferences arose from a hierarchical ranking of ant treatments. These results are discussed in terms of local adaptation and its possible significance in the diversification of ant-associated lycaenids.

Pierce NE. Peeling the onion: Symbioses between ants and blue butterflies. In: Model systems in behavioral ecology. Princeton: Princeton University Press ; 2001. pp. 41-56. 2001_pierce_peeling_the_onion.pdf
Fraser AM, Axen AH, Pierce NE. Assessing the quality of different ant species as partners of a myrmecophilous butterfly. Oecologia. 2001;129 :452-460.Abstract

We assessed the quality of different ant species as partners of the facultatively myrmecophilous lycaenid butterfly Glaucopsyche lygdamus. We compared disappearance and parasitism rates of G. lygdamus larvae in the field, and development of non-feeding pre-pupae in the laboratory, when individuals were untended or tended by one of four ant species. Formica podzolica was the only ant species to provide a clear benefit to G. lygdamus, in the form of reduced larval parasitism relative to untended larvae. F. 'neogagates' (F. neogagates + F. lasioides) and Tapinoma sessile were essentially neutral partners, providing no significant cost or benefit for any of the parameters measured. Relative to untended individuals, association with F. obscuripes significantly increased larval disappearance and significantly decreased pupal mass. Thus, F. obscuripes may act as a parasite of the general association between G. lygdamus and ants under certain conditions. Ant species also differed in their persistence as tenders of G. lygdamus larvae once an interaction was established. Over the lifetime of a larva, F. podzolica and F. obscuripes usually remained as the attendant ant species on plants over consecutive census dates, while F. 'neogagates' and T. sessile were frequently replaced, most commonly by F. obscuripes. It remains to be determined if disappearance and developmental outcomes reported here reflect true fitness costs (i.e. reduced survivorship and lower reproductive success) for G. lygdamus. The potential and limitations for specialization in association between G. lygdamus and high quality ant partners are discussed.

Yu DW, Wilson HB, Pierce NE. An empirical model of species coexistence in a spatially structured environment. Ecology. 2001;82 :1761-1771.Abstract

Ecological theory has long supported the idea that species coexistence in a homogeneous habitat is promoted by spatial structure, but empirical evidence for this hypothesis has lagged behind theory. Here we describe a Neotropical ant-plant symbiosis that is ideally suited for testing spatial models of coexistence. Two genera of ants, Allomerus cf. demerarae and three species of Azteca are specialized to live on a single species of ant-plant, Cordia nodosa, in a Western Amazonian tropical rain forest. Empirically, using census data from widely separated localities, we show that the relative colonization abilities of the two ant genera are a function of plant density. A parameterized model shows that this pattern alone is sufficiently robust to explain coexistence in;the system. Census and experimental data suggest that Azteca queens are better long-distance flyers, but that Allomerus colonies are more fecund. Thus, Azteca can dominate in areas where host-plant densities are low land parent colony-sapling distances are long), and Allomerus can dominate in areas where host-plant densities are high. Existing spatial heterogeneity in host-plant densities therefore can allow regional coexistence, and intersite dispersal can produce local mixing. In conclusion, a dispersal-fecundity trade-off appears to allow the two genera to treat spatial heterogeneity in patch density as a niche axis. This study further suggests that a spatially structured approach is essential in understanding the persistence of some mutualisms in the presence of parasites.

Hsu R, Briscoe AD, Chang BSW, Pierce NE. Molecular evolution of a long wavelength-sensitive opsin in mimetic Heliconius butterflies (Lepidoptera : Nymphalidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 2001;72 :435-449.Abstract

This study examines the pattern of opsin nucleotide and amino acid substitution among mimetic species 'rings' of Heliconius butterflies that are characterized by divergent wing colour patterns. A long wavelength opsin gene, OPS1, was sequenced from each of seven species of Heliconius and one species of Dryas (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). A parsimony analysis of OPS1 nucleotide and amino acid sequences resulted in a phylogeny that was consistent with that presented by Brewer & Egan in 1997, which was based on mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I and II as well as nuclear wingless genes. Nodes in the OPS1 phylogeny were well supported by bootstrap analysis and decay indices. An analysis of specific sites within the gene indicates that the accumulation of amino acid substitutions has occurred independently of the morphological diversification of Heliconius wing colour patterns. Amino acid substitutions were examined with respect to their location within the opsin protein and their possible interactions with the chromophore and the G-protein. Of the 15 amino acid substitutions identified among the eight species, one nonconservative replacement (A226Q) was identified in a position that may be involved in binding with the G-protein. (C) 2001 The Linnean Society of London.

Travassos MA, Pierce NE. Acoustics, context and function of vibrational signalling in a lycaenid butterfly-ant mutualism. Animal Behaviour. 2000;60 :13-26.Abstract

Juveniles of the Australian common imperial blue butterfly, Jalmenus evagoras, produce substrate-borne vibrational signals in the form of two kinds of pupal calls and three larval calls. Pupae stridulate in the presence of conspecific larvae, when attended by an ant guard, and as a reaction against perturbation. Using pupal pairs in which one member was experimentally muted, pupal calls were shown to be important in ant attraction and the maintenance of an ant guard. A pupa may use-calls to regulate levels of its attendant ants and to signal its potential value in these mutualistic interactions. Therefore substrate-borne vibrations play a significant role in the communication between J. evagoras and its attendant ants and pupal calls appear to be more than just signals acting as a predator deterrent. Similarly, caterpillars make more sound when attended by Iridomyrmex anceps, suggesting that larval calls may be important in mediating ant symbioses. One larval call has the same mean dominant frequency, pulse rate, bandwidth and pulse length as the primary signal of a pupa, suggesting a similarity in function. (C) 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Axen AH, Pierce NE. Aggregation as a cost-reducing strategy for lycaenid larvae. Behavioral Ecology. 1998;9 :109-115.Abstract

If a mutualistic relationship entails providing services at a cost, selection will favor individuals that maximize the net benefits of the interaction and minimize the costs. Larvae of many species of lycaenid butterflies secrete nutritious food rewards to attending ants and, in return, receive protection against predators and parasitoids. Because ants typically recruit more workers to larger resources, by forming groups the larvae may ensure more reliable access to ants and thereby gain better protection. A further consequence of aggregating should be a change of the cost-benefit relationship for individual larvae. The larger the group, the smaller a single larva's influence will be on total ant density, which could lead to a smaller investment in secretion, thus reducing the per capita cost of cooperation. In this study, the influence of ant attendance, group size, and companion quality on larval investment was investigated. The interaction between the obligately ant-dependent lycaenid, Jalmenus evagoras, and its attendant Iridomyrmex ants was manipulated and the effect on larval secretion measured. As the level of ant attendance increased, the delivery of food rewards increased, both for solitary and for aggregated larvae. When aggregated, larvae provided less food rewards to ants than when solitary, and secretion rate decreased with increasing group size. Furthermore, larvae had lower secretion rates when paired with a bigger, more attractive larva than when paired with a smaller one. The considerable reduction in secretion rates for larvae in groups suggests that gaining protection at a lower secretion cost could be one factor that promotes aggregation in myrmecophilous lycaenids.

Yu DW, Pierce NE. A castration parasite of an ant-plant mutualism. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 1998;265 :375-382.Abstract

Exploring the factors governing the maintenance and breakdown of cooperation between mutualists is an intriguing and enduring problem for evolutionary ecology, and symbioses between ants and plants can provide useful experimental models for such studies. Hundreds of tropical plant species have evolved structures to house and feed ants, and these ant-plant symbioses have long been considered classic examples of mutualism. Here, we report that the primary ant symbiont, Allomerus cf. demerarae, of the most abundant ant-plant found in south-east Peru, Cordia nodosa Lam., castrates its host plant. Allomerus workers protect new leaves and their associated domatia from herbivory, but destroy flowers, reducing fruit production to zero in most host plants. Castrated plants occupied by Allomerus provide more domatia for their associated ants than plants occupied by three species of Azteca ants that do not castrate their hosts. Allomerus colonies in larger plants have higher fecundity. As a consequence, Allomerus appears to benefit from its castration behaviour, to the detriment of C. nodosa. The C. nodosa-ant system exhibits none of the retaliatory or filtering mechanisms shown to stabilize cheating in other cooperative systems, and appears to persist because some of the plants, albeit a small;minority, are inhabited by the three species of truly mutualistic Azteca ants.