The evolutionary ecology of mutualisms

I am interested in the evolution and ongoing maintenance of mutualisms, in particular in relation to how mutualistic interactions are affected by anthropogenic habitat change. Humans alter natural habitats, and in so doing affect both the biotic and abiotic environments experienced by mutualistic partners. We have been exploring this using ant-inhabited plants, in which entire colonies of ants live in specially grown plant structures. In return for this living space, ants protect plants from leaf eating animals, and also from encroachment by competing plant individuals. We are currently exploring whether plant mutualists can mediate a kind of “reverse Janzen-Connell effect”, whereby the negative impacts of living close to conspecifics are counterbalanced by sharing of ant mutualists.

Key publications

Segar S.T., Fayle T.M., Srivastava D.S., Lewinsohn T.M., Lewis O.T., Novotny V., Kitching R. L., & Maunsell S.C. (2020). The role of evolution in shaping ecological networks. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 35: 454-466 [PDF]

Houadria M.Y.I, Feldhaar H, Fiala B, Lestina D, Chung A, Salleh A, Justin H, Kokorova P & Fayle T.M. (2020) Reduced benefits of ant occupation for ant-plants in oil palm compared with heavily logged forest. Symbiosis 81:79–91 [PDF]

Plowman N., Hood A., Moses J., Redmond C., Novotny V., Klimes P. & Fayle T.M. (2017) Network reorganisation and breakdown of an ant-plant protection mutualism with elevation Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284: 20162564 [PDF]

Fayle T.M., Edwards D.P., Foster W.A., Yusah K.M. & Turner E.C. (2015) An ant-plant by-product mutualism is robust to selective logging of rain forest and conversion to oil palm plantation. Oecologia 178: 441–450 [PDF]

Fayle T.M., Edwards D.P., Turner, E.C., Dumbrell A.J., Eggleton P. & Foster W.A. (2012). Public goods, public services, and by-product mutualism in an ant-fern symbiosis. Oikos 121: 1279–1286 [PDF]