The evolution of mutualism depends critically upon genetic variation in the fitness benefit to both partners. Estimates of these quantities are rare, however, because genetic variation for the interaction may be absent, aspects of the interaction may not be amenable to experimental manipulation, or the benefits to one partner may be unknown. In vitro experiments show that female mosses produce odors which attract sperm-dispersing microarthropods, but the fitness consequences of this interaction for either partner are unknown. Here we established experimental mesocosms to test for a commensal effect of sperm-dispersing microarthropods on moss reproduction. We found that of moss grown with microarthropods showed increased moss reproductive rates by five times, relative to control mesocosms, but remarkably also increased the number of reproducing genotypes, and changed the rank-order of fitness for both male and female genotypes. These results provide an estimate of the fitness benefit for mosses in the presence of microarthropods, and highlight the potential for biotic dispersal agents to alter fitness among moss genotypes in this relationship.
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