The evolution of facilitation and mutualism

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231 Scopus citations


1. While the relationship between facilitation and competition has been explored extensively in recent years, there is also a natural link between facilitation and mutualism, as both are interspecific interactions that confer benefits. Yet, the relationship between these two interactions has been minimally explored. 2. Here, I explore parallels and differences between mutualism and facilitation. Five focal areas organize current research on mutualism evolution: trait evolution; the continuum from specialization to generalization; the evolutionary origins and maintenance of the interaction; co-evolution of partners; and the prevalence and implications of cheating. These foci are also helpful for investigating how facilitation evolves, a much less explored issue. 3. Testable hypotheses regarding the evolution of facilitation include the following: selection should be stronger on traits of facilitated species than on traits of facilitators; facilitative interactions with mutualistic (++) and commensal (+0) outcomes should exhibit greater evolutionary stability than those with antagonistic (+-) outcomes; co-evolution should be possible in mutualistic and antagonistic facilitation only; when co-evolution occurs, it should produce a geographic mosaic of interaction outcomes; and antagonistic facilitation could lead to selection on facilitators to either escape or to tolerate the neighbours that benefit from them. 4.Synthesis. Three gaps in our knowledge currently impede progress on evolutionary questions surrounding facilitation. First, reciprocal effects are rarely investigated; facilitation might evolve like mutualism, commensalism or antagonism, depending on effects on the facilitator species. Secondly, the genetics of relevant traits are not yet well explored; the traits themselves are better known for facilitator species than for the facilitated, which are more likely to evolve in the context of the interaction. Finally, the fitness costs and benefits associated with facilitation have rarely been measured. Filling these gaps should permit rapid progress in understanding how facilitation arises, persists and evolves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1160-1170
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • Co-evolution
  • Community
  • Evolution
  • Facilitation
  • Mutualism
  • Plant-plant interactions
  • Positive interactions
  • Specialization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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