Mutualism at the leading edge: insights into the eco-evolutionary dynamics of host-symbiont communities during range expansion

Maria M. Martignoni, Rebecca C. Tyson, Oren Kolodny, Jimmy Garnier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The evolution of mutualism between host and symbiont communities plays an essential role in maintaining ecosystem function and should therefore have a profound effect on their range expansion dynamics. In particular, the presence of mutualistic symbionts at the leading edge of a host-symbiont community should enhance its propagation in space. We develop a theoretical framework that captures the eco-evolutionary dynamics of host-symbiont communities, to investigate how the evolution of resource exchange may shape community structure during range expansion. We consider a community with symbionts that are mutualistic or parasitic to various degrees, where parasitic symbionts receive the same amount of resource from the host as mutualistic symbionts, but at a lower cost. The selective advantage of parasitic symbionts over mutualistic ones is increased with resource availability (i.e. with host density), promoting mutualism at the range edges, where host density is low, and parasitism at the population core, where host density is higher. This spatial selection also influences the speed of spread. We find that the host growth rate (which depends on the average benefit provided by the symbionts) is maximal at the range edges, where symbionts are more mutualistic, and that host-symbiont communities with high symbiont density at their core (e.g. resulting from more mutualistic hosts) spread faster into new territories. These results indicate that the expansion of host-symbiont communities is pulled by the hosts but pushed by the symbionts, in a unique push-pull dynamic where both the host and symbionts are active and tightly-linked players.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)24
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Mathematical Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Differential equations
  • Eco-evolutionary dynamics
  • Host-microbial communities
  • Mathematical model
  • mutualism
  • Range expansion


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