Royal Society Publishing

The evolution of tolerance to deer herbivory: modifications caused by the abundance of insect herbivores

John R. Stinchcombe, Mark D. Rausher


Although recent evidence indicates that coevolutionary interactions between species often vary on a biogeographical scale, little consideration has been given to the processes responsible for producing this pattern. One potential explanation is that changes in the community composition alter the coevolutionary interactions between species, but little evidence exists regarding the occurrence of such changes. Here we present evidence that the pattern of natural selection on plant defence traits, and the probable response to that selection, are critically dependent on the composition of the biotic community. The evolutionary trajectory of defence traits against mammalian herbivory in the Ivyleaf morning glory (Ipomoea hederacea), and which defence traits are likely to respond to selection, are both dependent on the presence or absence of insect herbivores. These results indicate that variation in community composition may be a driving force in generating geographical mosaics.

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