Shared genes but not shared genetic variation: Legume colonization by two belowground symbionts

Julia N. Ossler, Katy D. Heath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mutualisms between hosts and multiple symbionts can generate diffuse coevolution if genetic covariance exists between host traits governing multiple interactions. Rhizobia and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) both interact with legume hosts, providing complementary nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous). Molecular approaches have revealed extensive pleiotropy in the plant genetic pathways required for colonization of both symbionts; however, a quantitative genetic approach is required to understand whether this pleiotropy shapes evolution in natural populations. In a greenhouse experiment with 75 families of Chamaecrista fasciculata grown in two phosphorous (P) environments (fertilized and unfertilized), positive covariance between nodule number and plant aboveground biomass within and across environments indicates selection for increased colonization by rhizobia. Genetic variation for host restriction of AMF colonization in response to P suggests that this aspect of context dependency can evolve in host populations and that selection in this mutualism varies with P. Despite the existence of gene-level pleiotropy during rhizobium and AMF infection, we find no evidence for genetic covariance in symbiont colonization or its response to P—suggesting that genetic variation at other, nonpleiotropic loci governs variation in colonization and thus that these traits likely evolve independently in plant populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-406
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Diffuse coevolution
  • G matrix
  • Genetic correlation
  • Mutualism
  • Selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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