Background: The interaction between insects and plants takes myriad forms in the generation of spectacular diversity. In this association a species host range is fundamental and often measured using an estimate of phylogenetic concordance between species. Pollinating fig wasps display extreme host species specificity, but the intraspecific variation in empirical accounts of host affiliation has previously been underestimated. In this investigation, lineage delimitation and codiversification tests are used to generate and discuss hypotheses elucidating on pollinating fig wasp associations with Ficus.
Results: Statistical parsimony and AMOVA revealed deep divergences at the COI locus within several pollinating fig wasp species that persist on the same host Ficus species. Changes in branching patterns estimated using the generalized mixed Yule coalescent test indicated lineage duplication on the same Ficus species. Conversely, Elisabethiella and Alfonsiella fig wasp species are able to reproduce on multiple, but closely related host fig species. Tree reconciliation tests indicate significant codiversification as well as significant incongruence between fig wasp and Ficus phylogenies.
Conclusions: The findings demonstrate more relaxed pollinating fig wasp host specificity than previously appreciated. Evolutionarily conservative host associations have been tempered by horizontal transfer and lineage duplication among closely related Ficus species. Independent and asynchronistic diversification of pollinating fig wasps is best explained by a combination of both sympatric and allopatric models of speciation. Pollinator host preference constraints permit reproduction on closely related Ficus species, but uncertainty of the frequency and duration of these associations requires better resolution.