The evolution of mutualistic trait variation in rhizobial symbionts across genetic and geographic scales
Interactions between plants and nitrogen-fixing rhizobial bacteria are characterized by high genetic diversity for traits important to the outcome of the interaction at the population and species level. However, the selective processes underpinning the generation and maintenance of genetic and phenotypic variation in such interactions are not well understood. I will present an overview of data gathered from a series of experiments using interactions between Acacia spp. and their associated rhizobia, and that address questions regarding the ecological and evolutionary drivers of trait variation across different scales. Specifically, I will discuss how 1) phylogenetic constraint; 2) within-species local adaptation; 3) nutrient availability; and 4) partner diversity and identity, influence patterns of specialization and community structure in legume-rhizobial mutualistic interactions. Our results suggest that both host-bacterial and bacterial-bacterial interactions are important for understanding evolutionary and ecological dynamics and highlight the importance of designing experiments that span different genetic and geographic scales.