Mutualisms are mutually beneficial interactions between species and are fundamentally important at all levels of biological organization. It is not clear, however, why one species participates in a particular mutualism whereas another does not. Here we show that pre-existing traits can dispose particular species to evolve a mutualistic interaction. Combining morphological, ecological, and behavioral data in a comparative analysis, we show that resource use in Chaitophorus aphids (Hemiptera: Aphididae) modulates the origin of their mutualism with ants. We demonstrate that aphid species that feed on deeper phloem elements have longer mouthparts, that this inhibits their ability to withdraw their mouthparts and escape predators and that, consequently, this increases their need for protection by mutualist ants.
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