Coevolutionary transitions from antagonism to mutualism explained by the Co-Opted Antagonist Hypothesis

Christopher A. Johnson, Gordon P. Smith, Kelsey Yule, Goggy Davidowitz, Judith L. Bronstein, Régis Ferrière

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


There is now good evidence that many mutualisms evolved from antagonism; why or how, however, remains unclear. We advance the Co-Opted Antagonist (COA) Hypothesis as a general mechanism explaining evolutionary transitions from antagonism to mutualism. COA involves an eco-coevolutionary process whereby natural selection favors co-option of an antagonist to perform a beneficial function and the interacting species coevolve a suite of phenotypic traits that drive the interaction from antagonism to mutualism. To evaluate the COA hypothesis, we present a generalized eco-coevolutionary framework of evolutionary transitions from antagonism to mutualism and develop a data-based, fully ecologically-parameterized model of a small community in which a lepidopteran insect pollinates some of its larval host plant species. More generally, our theory helps to reconcile several major challenges concerning the mechanisms of mutualism evolution, such as how mutualisms evolve without extremely tight host fidelity (vertical transmission) and how ecological context influences evolutionary outcomes, and vice-versa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2867
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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