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Predation drives recurrent convergence of an interspecies mutualism

Feeney, William E.; Brooker, Rohan M.; Johnston, Lane N.; Gilbert, James D.J.; Besson, Marc; Lecchini, David; Dixson, Danielle L.; Cowman, Peter F.; Manica, Andrea


William E. Feeney

Rohan M. Brooker

Lane N. Johnston

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Dr James Gilbert
Lecturer in Zoology/ Deputy Programme Leader, Zoology

Marc Besson

David Lecchini

Danielle L. Dixson

Peter F. Cowman

Andrea Manica


Helmut Hillebrand


Mutualisms are fundamental ecological interactions that underpin much of the world’s biodiversity. Recent studies have demonstrated how external pressures, such as predation, can regulate the dynamics of interspecific interactions and cause the breakdown or emergence of mutualisms under certain circumstances. However, whether these kinds of pressures can also explain global patterns of mutualism evolution remains unclear. Here, we show that fish-anemone mutualisms have evolved independently on at least 48 occasions across 17 families over the past 60 million years and that fish adult body size best predicts the ontogenetic stage of anemone-association: larger-bodied fishes associate with anemones as juveniles, while their smaller-bodied counterparts associate with anemones throughout their lives. We use field and laboratory studies to show that predators of juvenile fishes preferentially target smaller prey, that smaller individuals of a facultative anemone partner associate with anemones more than their larger counterparts, and that associations with anemones confer a protective benefit against predators. Our results indicate that predation is the most likely pressure driving the recurrent convergent evolution of fish-anemone mutualisms and suggest that similar ecological processes may have selected for convergent interspecies interactions in other animal clades.


Feeney, W. E., Brooker, R. M., Johnston, L. N., Gilbert, J. D., Besson, M., Lecchini, D., …Manica, A. (2019). Predation drives recurrent convergence of an interspecies mutualism. Ecology letters, 22(2), 256-264.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 28, 2018
Online Publication Date Nov 27, 2018
Publication Date 2019-02
Deposit Date Oct 22, 2018
Publicly Available Date Nov 28, 2019
Print ISSN 1461-023X
Electronic ISSN 1461-0248
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 22
Issue 2
Pages 256-264
Keywords Convergent evolution; Coral reefs; Mutualism; Predator-prey interactions
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