A mutualism at the edge of its range

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Comparing populations that differ in access to mutualists can suggest how traits associated with these interactions have evolved. I discuss geographical and seasonal variation in the success of a primarily tropical mutualism (the fig/pollinator interaction), and evaluate some possible adaptations allowing it to persist at the edge of its range. Pollinators probably have difficulty in seasonal sites because 1) fig trees flower rarely in winter and 2) trees that do flower are less detectable and more difficult to reach. Fig biologists believe that seasonality must have selected for adaptations allowing pollinators to survive winter. However, geographical comparisons do not support two current ideas, the synchrony-breakdown hypothesis and the specificity-breakdown hypothesis. I pose two alternatives: plasticity of fruit and wasp developmental time, and adaptations of free-living fig wasps. I also distinguish between the impact of seasonality on monoecious versus dioecious figs; the latter group appear better adapted to reproduce in cool climates. A combination of comparative, observational, and experimental approaches has great potential for advancing our understanding of mutualisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)622-637
Number of pages16
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1989


  • Agaonidae
  • Ficus
  • coevolution
  • fig
  • mutualism
  • phenology
  • pollination
  • seasonality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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