Transmission, relatedness, and the evolution of cooperative symbionts.
Leeks A., Dos Santos M., West SA.
Cooperative interactions between species, termed mutualisms, play a key role in shaping natural ecosystems, economically important agricultural systems, and in influencing human health. Across different mutualisms, there is significant variation in the benefit that hosts receive from their symbionts. Empirical data suggest that transmission mode can help explain this variation: vertical transmission, where symbionts infect their host's offspring, leads to symbionts that provide greater benefits to their hosts than horizontal transmission, where symbionts leave their host and infect other hosts in the population. However, two different theoretical explanations have been given for this pattern: firstly, vertical transmission aligns the fitness interests of hosts and their symbionts; secondly, vertical transmission leads to increased relatedness between symbionts sharing a host, favouring cooperation between symbionts. We used a combination of analytical models and dynamic simulations to tease these factors apart, in order to compare their separate influences and see how they interact. We found that relatedness between symbionts sharing a host, rather than transmission mode per se, was the most important factor driving symbiont cooperation. Transmission mode mattered mainly because it determined relatedness. We also found evolutionary branching throughout much of our simulation, suggesting that a combination of transmission mode and multiplicity of infections could lead to the stable coexistence of different symbiont strategies.