Mutualistic interactions can be exploited by cheaters that take the rewards offered by mutualists without providing services in return. The evolution of cheater species from mutualist ancestors is thought to be possible under particular ecological conditions. Here we provide a test of the first explicit model of the transition from mutualism to antagonism. We used the obligate pollination mutualism between yuccas and yucca moths to examine the origins of a nonpollinating cheater moth, Tegeticula intermedia, and its pollinating sister species, T. cassandra. Based on geographic distribution and ecological factors affecting the pollinators, previous research had indicated that the cheaters evolved in Florida as a result of sympatry of T. cassandra and another pollinator species. We used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) data to investigate the phylogeographic history of the pollinator-cheater sister pair and to test whether the cheaters arose in Florida. Contrary to predictions, phylogenetic and population genetic analyses suggested that the cheaters evolved in the western United States and subsequently spread eastward. Western populations of cheaters had the most ancestral haplotypes and the highest genetic diversity, and there was also significant genetic structure associated with a geographic split between eastern and western populations. In comparison, there was evidence for weak genetic structure between northern and southern pollinator populations, suggesting a long history in Florida. The western origin of the cheaters indicated that the pollinators have more recently become restricted to the southeastern United States. This was supported by AFLP analyses that indicated that the pollinators were more closely related to the western cheaters than they were to geographically proximate cheaters in the east. Shared mtDNA between pollinators and eastern cheaters suggested hybridization, possibly in a secondary contact zone. The results negate the out-of-Florida hypothesis and reveal instead a long, complex, and disparate history for the pollinator-cheater sister pair.
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