Herbivores alter the fitness benefits of a plant-rhizobium mutualism

Katy D. Heath, Jennifer A. Lau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mutualisms are best understood from a community perspective, since third-party species have the potential to shift the costs and benefits in interspecific interactions. We manipulated plant genotypes, the presence of rhizobium mutualists, and the presence of a generalist herbivore and assessed the performance of all players in order to test whether antagonists might alter the fitness benefits of plant-rhizobium mutualism, and vice versa how mutualists might alter the fitness consequences of plant-herbivore antagonism. We found that plants in our experiment formed more associations with rhizobia (root nodules) in the presence of herbivores, thereby increasing the fitness benefits of mutualism for rhizobia. In contrast, the effects of rhizobia on herbivores were weak. Our data support a community-dependent view of these ecological interactions, and suggest that consideration of the aboveground herbivore community can inform ecological and evolutionary studies of legume-rhizobium interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-92
Number of pages6
JournalActa Oecologica
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Diffuse interaction
  • Ecological cost
  • Indirect effect
  • Medicago truncatula
  • Sinorhizobium meliloti
  • Tri-trophic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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