Tolerance traits and the stability of mutualism

Oliver, Tom H.; Leather, Simon R.; Cook, James M.. 2009 Tolerance traits and the stability of mutualism. Oikos, 118 (3). 346-352.

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Identifying factors which allow the evolution and persistence of cooperative interactions between species is a fundamental issue in evolutionary ecology. Various hypotheses have been suggested which generally focus on mechanisms that allow cooperative genotypes in different species to maintain interactions over space and time. Here, we emphasise the fact that even within mutualisms (interactions with net positive fitness effects for both partners), there may still be inherent costs, such as the occasional predation by ants upon aphids. Individuals engaged in mutualisms benefit from minimising these costs as long as it is not at the expense of breaking the interspecific interaction, which offers a net positive benefit. The most common and obvious defence traits to minimise interspecific interaction costs are resistance traits, which act to reduce encounter rate between two organisms. Tolerance traits, in contrast, minimise fitness costs to the actor, but without reducing encounter rate. Given that, by definition, it is beneficial to remain in mutualistic interactions, the only viable traits to minimise costs are tolerance-based ‘defence’ strategies. Thus, we propose that tolerance traits are an important factor promoting stability in mutualisms. Furthermore, because resistance traits tend to propagate coevolutionary arms races between antagonists, whilst tolerance traits do not, we also suggest that tolerance-based defence strategies may be important in facilitating the transition from antagonistic interactions into mutualisms. For example, the mutualism between ants and aphids has been suggested to have evolved from parasitism. We describe how phenotypic plasticity in honeydew production may be a tolerance trait that has prevented escalation into an antagonistic arms race and instead led to mutualistic coevolution.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Ecology & Hydrology Funding Initiative (EHFI)
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Pywell
ISSN: 0030-1299
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: The definitive version is available at
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Related URLs:
Date made live: 05 Aug 2009 14:07 +0 (UTC)

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