Coevolved mutualists experience fluctuating costs and benefits over time

Mayra C. Vidal, Kari A. Segraves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Understanding how mutualisms persist over time requires investigations of how mutualist species coevolve and adapt to the interaction. In particular, the key factors in the evolution of mutualisms are the costs and benefits mutualists experience during the interaction. Here, we used a yeast nutritional mutualism to test how mutualists coevolve and adapt in an obligate mutualism. We allowed two yeast mutualists to evolve together for 15 weeks (about 150 generations), and then we tested if the mutualists had coevolved using time-shift assays. We also examined two mutualistic traits associated with the costs and benefits: resource use efficiency and commodity production. We found that the mutualists quickly coevolved. Furthermore, the changes in benefits and costs were nonlinear and varied with evolutionary changes occurring in the mutualist partner. One mutualist initially evolved to reduce mutualistic commodity production and increase efficiency in mutualistic resource use; however, this negatively affected its mutualist partner that evolved reduced commodity production and resource use efficiency. As a result, the former increased commodity production, resulting in an increase in benefits for its partner. The quick, nonlinear, and asynchronous evolution of yeast mutualists closely resembles antagonistic coevolutionary patterns, supporting the view that mutualisms should be considered as reciprocal exploitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-230
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Coevolution
  • experimental evolution
  • microbe
  • obligate mutualism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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