DOI: 10.1111/jeb.14011">

Negotiating mutualism: A locus for exploitation by rhizobia has a broad effect size distribution and context-dependent effects on legume hosts

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Journal of Evolutionary Biology


However, we know little about variation in the effects of genes that underlie symbiotic fitness in natural mutualist populations. In some species of legumes that form root nodule symbioses with nitrogen-fixing rhizobial bacteria, hosts secrete nodule-specific cysteine-rich (NCR) peptides that cause rhizobia to differentiate in the nodule environment. However, rhizobia can cleave NCR peptides through the expression of genes like the plasmid-borne Host range restriction peptidase (hrrP), whose product degrades specific NCR peptides. Although hrrP activity can confer host exploitation by depressing host fitness and enhancing symbiont fitness, the effects of hrrP on symbiosis phenotypes depend strongly on the genotypes of the interacting partners. However, the effects of hrrP have yet to be characterised in a natural population context, so its contribution to variation in wild mutualist populations is unknown. To understand the distribution of effects of hrrP in wild rhizobia, we measured mutualism phenotypes conferred by hrrP in 12 wild Ensifer medicae strains. To evaluate context dependency of hrrP effects, we compared hrrP effects across two Medicago polymorpha host genotypes and across two experimental years for five E. medicae strains. We show for the first time in a natural population context that hrrP has a wide distribution of effect sizes for many mutualism traits, ranging from strongly positive to strongly negative. Furthermore, we show that hrrP effect size varies across host genotypes and experiment years, suggesting that researchers should be cautious about extrapolating the role of genes in natural populations from controlled laboratory studies of single genetic variants.


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DOI: 10.1111/jeb.14011