Background: Recurrent climatic oscillations have produced dramatic changes in species distributions. This process has been proposed to be a major evolutionary force, shaping many life history traits of species, and to govern global patterns of biodiversity at different scales. During range expansions selection may favor the evolution of higher dispersal, and symbiotic interactions may be affected. It has been argued that a weakness of climate fluctuation-driven range dynamics at equatorial latitudes has facilitated the persistence there of more specialized species and interactions. However, how much the biology and ecology of species is changed by range dynamics has seldom been investigated, particularly in equatorial regions. Methodology/Principal Findings: We studied a three-species symbiosis endemic to coastal equatorial rainforests in Cameroon, where the impact of range dynamics is supposed to be limited, comprised of two species-specific obligate mutualists -an ant-plant and its protective ant- and a species-specific ant parasite of this mutualism. We combined analyses of within-species genetic diversity and of phenotypic variation in a transect at the southern range limit of this ant-plant system. All three species present congruent genetic signatures of recent gradual southward expansion, a result compatible with available regional paleoclimatic data. As predicted, this expansion has been accompanied by the evolution of more dispersive traits in the two ant species. In contrast, we detected no evidence of change in lifetime reproductive strategy in the tree, nor in its investment in food resources provided to its symbiotic ants. Conclusions/Significance: Despite the decreasing investment in protective workers and the increasing investment in dispersing females by both the mutualistic and the parasitic ant species, there was no evidence of destabilization of the symbiosis at the colonization front. To our knowledge, we provide here the first evidence at equatorial latitudes that biological traits associated with dispersal are affected by the range expansion dynamics of a set of interacting species. Copyright: © 2009 Léotard et al.
Léotard, G., Debout, G., Dalecky, A., Guillot, S., Gaume, L., McKey, D., & Kjellberg, F. (2009). Range expansion drives dispersal evolution in an equatorial three-species symbiosis. PLoS ONE, 4(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0005377