Specialization in the yucca–yucca moth obligate pollination mutualism: A role for antagonism?

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11 Scopus citations


PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Specialized brood pollination systems involve both mutualism and antagonism in the overall interaction and have led to diversification in both plants and insects. Although largely known for mutualism, the role of the antagonistic side of the interaction in these systems has been overlooked. Specialization may be driven by plant defenses to feeding by the insect larvae that consume and kill developing plant ovules. The interaction among yuccas and yucca moths is cited as a classic example of the importance of mutualism in specialization and diversification. Pollinators moths are very host specific, but whether this specificity is due to adult pollination ability or larval feeding ability is unclear. Here, I test the potential role of antagonism in driving specialization among yuccas and yucca moths. METHODS: I examined the ability of the most-polyphagous yucca moth pollinator, Tegeticula yuccasella, to pollinate and develop on five Yucca species used across its range. Yucca species endemic to the Great Plains and Texas were transplanted to a common garden in Syracuse, New York and exposed to the local pollinator moth population over 3 years. KEY RESULTS: Local moths visited all but one of the Yucca species, but had drastically lower rates of successful larval development on non-natal Yucca species in comparison to the local host species. CONCLUSION: Specialization in many brood pollination systems may be strongly influenced by the antagonistic rather than the mutualistic side of the overall interaction, suggesting that antagonistic coevolution is a possible source of diversification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1803-1809
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2016


  • Agavoideae
  • Asparagaceae
  • Coevolution
  • Diversification
  • Lepidoptera
  • Mutualism
  • Plant defense
  • Prodoxidae
  • Specialization
  • Yucca moths

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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