The evolution of resource provisioning in pollination mutualisms

Sarah J. McPeek, Judith L. Bronstein, Mark A. McPeek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Resource dynamics influence the contemporary ecology of consumer-resource mutualisms. Suites of resource traits, such as floral nectar components, also evolve in response to different selective pressures, changing the ecological dynamics of the interacting species at the evolutionary equilibrium. Here we explore the evolution of resource-provisioning traits in a biotically pollinated plant that produces nectar as a resource for beneficial consumers. We develop a mathematical model describing natural selection on two quantitative nectar traits: maximum nectar production rate and maximum nectar reservoir volume. We use this model to examine how nectar production dynamics evolve under different ecological conditions that impose varying cost-benefit regimes on resource provisioning. The model results predict that natural selection favors higher nectar production when ecological factors limit the plant or pollinator’s abundance (e.g., a lower productivity environment or a higher pollinator conversion efficiency). We also find that nectar traits evolve as a suite in which higher costs of producing one trait select for a compensatory increase in investment in the other trait. This empirically explicit approach to studying the evolution of consumer-resource mutualisms illustrates how natural selection acting via direct and indirect pathways of species interactions generates patterns of resource provisioning seen in natural systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-459
Number of pages19
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Consumer-resource interactions
  • Floral nectar evolution
  • Indirect effects
  • Pollination mutualisms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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