Co-niche construction between hosts and symbionts: ideas and evidence
Symbiosis is a process that can generate evolutionary novelties and can extend the phenotypic niche space of organisms. Symbionts can act together with their hosts to co-construct host organs, within which symbionts are housed. Once established within hosts, symbionts can also influence various aspects of host phenotype, such as resource acquisition, protection from predation by acquisition of toxicity, as well as behaviour. Once symbiosis is established, its fidelity between generations must be ensured. Hosts evolve various mechanisms to screen unwanted symbionts and to facilitate faithful transmission of mutualistic partnersbetween generations. Microbes are the most important symbionts that have influenced plant and animal phenotypes; multicellular organisms engage in developmental symbioses with microbes at many stages in ontogeny. The co-construction of niches may result in composite organisms that are physically nested within each other. While it has been advocated that these composite organisms need new evolutionary theories and perspectives to describe their properties and evolutionary trajectories, it appears that standard evolutionary theories are adequate to explore selection pressures on their composite or individual traits. Recent advances in our understanding of composite organisms open up many important questions regarding the stability and transmission of these units.
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