October 4, 2014

Evolution, in real-time

Plant-insect interactions constitute fundamental component communities of terrestrial ecosystems [1] [2]. The different types of plant-insect associations in nature are thought to have driven both plant and insect radiation [3]. The advantages of animal-mediated pollination have led to the evolution and diversification of specialist mutualisms between, for instance, plants and birds (e.g. [4]), while the need for protection has spawned mutualisms between various tropical tree species and ants [5] [6] [7]. Herbivory, on the other hand, has led to an arm’s race of plant defence mechanisms and insect attack and feeding habits [3]. An ever-increasing number of studies demonstrate the importance of biotic interactions in driving evolutionary change, but considerably fewer reveal the mechanisms by which this occurs in real-time [8] [9].
Monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Credit: Kailen Mooney