A major current challenge in evolutionary biology is to understand how networks of interacting species shape the coevolutionary process. We combined a model for trait evolution with data for twenty plant-animal assemblages to explore coevolution in mutualistic networks. The results revealed three fundamental aspects of coevolution in species-rich mutualisms. First, coevolution shapes species traits throughout mutualistic networks by speeding up the overall rate of evolution. Second, coevolution results in higher trait complementarity in interacting partners and trait convergence in species in the same trophic level. Third, convergence is higher in the presence of super-generalists, which are species that interact with multiple groups of species. We predict that worldwide shifts in the occurrence of super-generalists will alter how coevolution shapes webs of interacting species. Introduced species such as honeybees will favour trait convergence in invaded communities, whereas the loss of large frugivores will lead to increased trait dissimilarity in tropical ecosystems.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS.