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Am Nat. 2008 Feb;171(2):150-61. doi: 10.1086/524959.

Community complexity drives patterns of natural selection on a chemical defense of Brassica nigra.

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  • 1Section of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Plants interact with many different species throughout their life cycle. Recent work has shown that the ecological effects of multispecies interactions are often not predictable from studies of the component pairwise interactions. Little is known about how multispecies interactions affect the evolution of ecologically important traits. We tested the direct and interactive effects of inter- and intraspecific competition, as well as of two abundant herbivore species (a generalist folivore and a specialist aphid), on the selective value of a defensive chemical compound in Brassica nigra. We found that investment in chemical defense was favored in interspecific competition but disfavored in intraspecific competition and that this pattern of selection was dependent on the presence of both herbivores, suggesting that selection will depend on the rarity or commonness of these species. These results show that the selective value of ecologically important traits depends on the complicated web of interactions present in diverse natural communities and that fluctuations in community composition may maintain genetic variation in such traits.

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