Mutualism Evolution

One of my main research interests is why cooperation among species – or mutualism – evolves. I use a number of different cooperative interactions to study this question. My research mostly focuses on ecologically and evolutionarily crucial mutualisms of plants and soil microbes (plant interactions with mycorrhizal fungi and with nitrogen-fixing bacteria), but I also work on insect symbioses. My research into mutualisms uses a combination of approaches, including large-scale phylogenetic comparative methods, experimental approaches and evolutionary game theory. I am also involved in efforts to map global distributions of soil symbioses using big databases of plant observations.

Selected publications

Werner, G. D. A., J. H. C. Cornelissen, W. K. Cornwell, N. A. Soudzilovskaia, J. Kattge, S. A. West, and E. T. Kiers. 2018. Symbiont switching and alternative resource acquisition strategies drive mutualism breakdown. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1721629115 PDF link Article link

Werner, G.D.A., Kiers, E.T. (2015). Order of arrival structures arbuscular mycorrhizal colonisation of plants. New Phytologist. 205: 1515-1524 PDF link   Article link

Werner, G.D.A., Cornwell, W.K., Cornelissen, J.H.C., Kiers, E.T. (2015). Evolutionary signals of symbiotic persistence in the legume–rhizobia mutualism. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 112: 10262-10269 PDF link   Article link

This figure shows the correlated evolution of the breakdown of cooperation between plants and mycorrhizal fungi, and the evolution of symbiont switches and alternative resource strategies such as carnivory (see Werner et al. 2018, PNAS).