From antagonistic larvae to mutualistic adults: coevolution of diet niches within life cycles.

5 September 2018

Picot, Aurore; Georgelin, Ewen; Loeuille, Nicolas

Population structures largely affect higher levels of organization (community structure, ecosystem functioning), especially when involving ontogenetic changes in habitat or diet. Along life cycles, partners and interaction type may change: for instance Lepidopterans are herbivores as larvae and pollinators as adults. To understand variations in diet niche from larvae to adults, we model a community of two plant species and one stage-structured insect species consuming plants as juvenile and pollinating them as adult. We model the coevolution of juvenile and adult diet specialization using adaptive dynamics to investigate when one should expect niche partitioning or niche overlap among life stages. We consider ecological and evolutionary implications for the coexistence of species. As predicted based on indirect effects among stages, we find that juvenile diet evolution increases niche overlap and favours the coexistence of plants, while the evolution of the adult diet decreases niche overlap and reduces plant coexistence, because of positive feedbacks emerging from the mutualistic interaction.