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Study offers a rare view of how species interactions evolve

SANTA CRUZ, CA--The complicated relationship between a common wildflower and a little gray moth is yielding new insights into how species coevolve, with implications for the conservation of biodiversity. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Washington State University (WSU) described the variable interactions between these two species--a remarkable case study in coevolution--in a paper to be published in the June 13 issue of the journal Nature.

The wildflower, known to botanists as Lithophragma parviflorum, goes by the common names woodland star or prairie starflower. Its life history is entwined with that of an inconspicuous moth called Greya politella. The moth is both a pollinator of L. parviflorum flowers and a consumer of its seeds, a combination of effects that has widely varying outcomes in different habitats. The interaction covers the full range of possibilities, from mutually beneficial to antagonistic, in a complex geographic mosaic.

"This is a particularly interesting interaction for understanding the link between evolution and ecology, and how that plays out over complex landscapes," said John Thompson, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz.

"We're finding that much of evolution is about the coevolution of species--how species continually respond to one another, forming complex networks of interaction," Thompson said.

In the Nature paper, Thompson and coauthor Bradley Cunningham of WSU described how these two species--the woodland star and the Greya moth--have coevolved in a variety of habitats throughout western Idaho and adjacent areas of Washington and Oregon.

The female moths of G. politella lay their eggs in the flowers of L. parviflorum, inserting a long ovipositor down the neck of the corolla and cutting into the flower's ovary. In the process, the moths pollinate the flowers, carrying pollen from one flower to another on their abdomens. After the eggs ha
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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@cats.ucsc.edu
831-459-4352
University of California - Santa Cruz
12-Jun-2002


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