The mutually beneficial relationship between figs and fig wasps is maintained via sanctions for deviating behavior.

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“Figs and the wasps that pollinate them present one of biologists’ favorite examples of a beneficial relationship between two different species. In exchange for the pollination service provided by the wasp, the fig fruit provides room and board for the wasp’s developing young. However, wasps do not always pollinate the fig. Fig trees ‘punish’ these ‘cheaters’ by dropping unpollinated fruit, killing the wasp’s offspring inside…” (Science Daily 2010)

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“Figs and the wasps that pollinate them present one of biologists’ favorite examples of a beneficial relationship between two different species. In exchange for the pollination service provided by the wasp, the fig fruit provides room and board for the wasp’s developing young. However, wasps do not always pollinate the fig. Fig trees ‘punish’ these ‘cheaters’ by dropping unpollinated fruit, killing the wasp’s offspring inside…” (Science Daily 2010)

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Punishment important in plant-pollinator relationshipSmithsonian Tropical Research Institute

“Theory predicts that mutualisms should be vulnerable to invasion by cheaters, yet mutualistic interactions are both ancient and diverse. What prevents one partner from reaping the benefits of the interaction without paying the costs? Using field experiments and observations, we examined factors affecting mutualism stability in six fig tree–fig wasp species pairs. We experimentally compared the fitness of wasps that did or did not perform their most basic mutualistic service, pollination.
We found host sanctions that reduced the fitness of non-pollinating wasps in all derived, actively pollinated fig species (where wasps expend time and energy pollinating), but not in the basal, passively pollinated fig species (where wasps do not). We further screened natural populations of pollinators for wasp individuals that did not carry pollen (‘cheaters’). Pollen-free wasps occurred only in actively pollinating wasp species, and their prevalence was negatively correlated with the sanction strength of their host species. Combined with previous studies, our findings suggest that (i) mutualisms can show coevolutionary dynamics analogous to those of ‘arms races’ in overtly antagonistic interactions; (ii) sanctions are critical for long-term mutualism stability when providing benefits to a host is costly, and (iii) there are general principles that help maintain cooperation both within and among species.” (Jandér & Herre 2010:1481)

Journal article
Host sanctions and pollinator cheating in the fig tree-fig wasp mutualismProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological SciencesJanuary 14, 2010
K. C. Jander, E. A. Herre

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