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Keywords:

  • General purpose genotype;
  • parthenogenesis;
  • polyphagy;
  • population size;
  • scale insects

Understanding why some organisms reproduce by sexual reproduction while others can reproduce asexually remains an important unsolved problem in evolutionary biology. Simple demography suggests that asexuals should outcompete sexually reproducing organisms, because of their higher intrinsic rate of increase. However, the majority of multicellular organisms have sexual reproduction. The widely accepted explanation for this apparent contradiction is that asexual lineages have a higher extinction rate. A number of models have indicated that population size might play a crucial role in the evolution of asexuality. The strength of processes that lead to extinction of asexual species is reduced when population sizes get very large, so that the long-term advantage of sexual over asexual reproduction may become negligible. Here, we use a comparative approach using scale insects (Coccoidea, Hemiptera) to show that asexuality is indeed more common in species with larger population density and geographic distribution and we also show that asexual species tend to be more polyphagous. We discuss the implication of our findings for previously observed patterns of asexuality in agricultural pests.