Repeated colonization of remote islands by specialized mutualists

David H. Hembry, Tomoko Okamoto, Rosemary G. Gillespie


Mutualisms are ubiquitous in nature, but constraints imposed by specialization may limit their ability to colonize novel environments synchronously. The ability of mutualisms to reassemble following disturbance is central to understanding their response to global change. Here, we demonstrate that a highly specialized pollination mutualism considered to be obligate (Phyllanthaceae: Glochidion; Lepidoptera: Gracillariidae: Epicephala) has colonized some of the world's most isolated archipelagoes, and we record, to our knowledge, for the first time the presence of Epicephala moths from 19 host Glochidion species on 17 islands in the Pacific Ocean. Our findings appear to offer a remarkable example of mutualism persistence in an insect–plant interaction characterized by reciprocal specialization and mutual dependence. These findings also appear to contradict the island biogeography paradigm that taxa with specialized biotic interactions are unlikely to colonize oceanic islands.

  • Received July 28, 2011.
  • Accepted August 19, 2011.
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