Cyclical Parthenogenesis and Viviparity in Aphids as Evolutionary Novelties


Correspondence to: Gregory K. Davis Department of Biology, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010. E-mail:


Evolutionary novelties represent challenges to biologists, particularly those who would like to understand the developmental and genetic changes responsible for their appearance. Most modern aphids possess two apparent evolutionary novelties: cyclical parthenogenesis (a life cycle with both sexual and asexual phases) and viviparity (internal development and live birth of progeny) in their asexual phase. Here I discuss the evolution of these apparent novelties from a developmental standpoint. Although a full understanding of the evolution of cyclical parthenogenesis and viviparity in aphids can seem a daunting task, these complex transitions can at least be broken down into a handful of steps. I argue that these should include the following: a differentiation of two developmentally distinct oocytes; de novo synthesis of centrosomes and modification of meiosis during asexual oogenesis; a loss or bypass of any cell cycle arrest and changes in key developmental events during viviparous oogenesis; and a change in how mothers specify the sexual vs. asexual fates of their progeny. Grappling with the nature of such steps and the order in which they occurred ought to increase our understanding and reduce the apparent novelty of complex evolutionary transitions. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 318B:448–459, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.