The complex causality of geographical parthenogenesis


Author for correspondence: Elvira Hörandl Tel: +43 14277 54098 Fax: +43 14277 54099 Email:


Asexual organisms usually have larger and more northern distributions than their sexual relatives. This phenomenon, called geographical parthenogenesis, has been controversially attributed to predispositions in certain taxa; advantages of polyploidy and/or hybrid origin; better colonizing abilities because of uniparental reproduction; introgression of apomixis into sexuals; niche differentiation of clones; or biotic interactions. This review on apomictic plants demonstrates that each of these factors alone has not been able to explain the observed distributions. Establishment of the complex regulatory system of apomixis requires taxonomic and geographical predispositions; hybridization and/or polyploidization do create diversity, but they do not necessarily result in large distributions; colonizing abilities depend on clonal diversity and are outweighed by sexuals by self-compatibility and higher potentials for speciation; niche differentiation, ploidy levels and selfing keep sympatric sexuals and apomicts separated; and the impact of biotic interactions on distributions is uncertain. In conclusion, the distributional success of apomicts has a complex causality and depends on certain circumstances and combinations of factors. The rare establishment of apomixis may help to explain the predominance of sexuality on the large scale.