Cost-benefit models of the evolution of mutualism predict that the current state of mutualism results from trade-offs between fitness costs of mutualist traits and the fitness benefits of association. We test the assumptions of such models by measuring patterns of natural selection on a mutualist trait, extrafloral nectar production in Chamaecrista fasciculata. Selection was measured on plants from which ants had been excluded (removing the mutualist benefit of the trait), from which all insects had been excluded (removing costs of herbivory in addition to mutualist benefits), and unmanipulated plants (where both costs and benefits were present). Selection analysis based on half-sibling-mean regressions of fitness on the trait revealed no evidence of costs of extrafloral nectar production in the absence of all insects or in the absence of ants. However, examination of the selective surfaces for these treatments suggest that costs of nectar production may exist and are exacerbated by the presence of herbivory. In the presence of ants, natural selection favors high extrafloral nectar production, consistent with a fitness benefit to this mutualist trait in the presence of the mutualist partner. In this study, the interaction of costs and benefits did not produce an evolutionary optimum for the trait within the range of variation observed, suggesting that application of a cost-benefit framework to this trait will benefit from considering the influence of temporal and spatial variation on the quality of costs and benefits.
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Vol. 58 • No. 12