Do mutualistic interactions last longer than antagonistic interactions?

Yichao Zeng, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Species interactions are crucial and ubiquitous across organisms. However, it remains unclear how long these interactions last over macroevolutionary timescales, and whether the nature of these interactions (mutualistic versus antagonistic) helps predict how long they persist. Here, we estimated the ages of diverse species interactions, based on phylogenies from 60 studies spanning the Tree of Life. We then tested if mutualistic interactions persist longer than antagonistic interactions. We found that the oldest mutualisms were significantly older than the oldest antagonisms across all organisms, and within plants, fungi, bacteria and protists. Surprisingly, this pattern was reversed in animals, with the oldest mutualisms significantly younger than the oldest antagonisms. We also found that many mutualisms were maintained for hundreds of millions of years (some greater than 1 billion years), providing strong evidence for the long-term stability of mutualisms and for niche conservatism in species interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20211457
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1958
StatePublished - Sep 8 2021


  • antagonism
  • macroevolution
  • mutualism
  • niche conservatism
  • phylogeny
  • species interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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