Study Supports “Red Queen” Theory of Evolution for Ant-Plant Mutualistic Species

In Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass," the Red Queen explains to Alice how a race works in Wonderland, stating, "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." So, too, does this statement hold true in nature. Competitive species are under constant pressure to evolve as rapidly as possible so as to outgun their competition, and this is often referred to as the Red Queen Theory. The rabbit needs to outrun the fox to avoid being killed, whereas the fox needs to catch the rabbit in order to avoid starvation. Well, statistical modeling has also suggested the inverse since 2003: the Red King Theory. If two species are mutualists -- that is, each benefits from the activity of the other -- they should evolve at a slower rate, so as to avoid interrupting their partnership. Makes sense, right? Think again! In a new study published online on August 25, 20216 in Nature Communications, comparative genomic analysis shows that the complete opposite may actually be true. The open-access article is titled “Comparative Genomics Reveals Convergent Rates of Evolution In Ant–Plant Mutualisms.” "We originally set out to uncover the genetic basis of mutualistic behavior in ants," said Dr. Benjamin Rubin, recent Ph.D. graduate from the University of Chicago and The Field Museum and now postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University. "So, we sequenced the genomes of three mutualistic species of plant-ants and four of their closely-related, non-mutualistic relatives. We were surprised to learn that the mutualists actually had a higher rate of evolution across their genomes than the generalists."
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