Do trade-offs have explanatory power for the evolution of organismal interactions?

Mark K. Asplen, Emily Bruns, Aaron S. David, R. Ford Denison, Brendan Epstein, Matthew C. Kaiser, Joe M. Kaser, Christelle Lacroix, Emily K. Mohl, Gina Quiram, Kristina Prescott, John Stanton-Geddes, John B. Vincent, Peter D. Wragg, Georgiana May

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The concept of a trade-off has long played a prominent role in understanding the evolution of organismal interactions such as mutualism, parasitism, and competition. Given the complexity inherent to interactions between different evolutionary entities, ecological factors may especially limit the power of trade-off models to predict evolutionary change. Here, we use four case studies to examine the importance of ecological context for the study of trade-offs in organismal interactions: (1) resource-based mutualisms, (2) parasite transmission and virulence, (3) plant biological invasions, and (4) host range evolution in parasites and parasitoids. In the first two case studies, mechanistic trade-off models have long provided a strong theoretical framework but face the challenge of testing assumptions under ecologically realistic conditions. Work under the second two case studies often has a strong ecological grounding, but faces challenges in identifying or quantifying the underlying genetic mechanism of the trade-off. Attention is given to recent studies that have bridged the gap between evolutionary mechanism and ecological realism. Finally, we explore the distinction between ecological factors that mask the underlying evolutionary trade-offs, and factors that actually change the trade-off relationship between fitness-related traits important to organismal interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1297-1307
Number of pages11
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2012


  • Antagonistic pleiotropy
  • Evolution of increased competitive ability
  • Host range
  • Mutualism
  • Parasitism
  • Y-model

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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