• Open Access

Asexuality alone does not explain the success of clonal forms in insects with geographical parthenogenesis


Magnus Lundmark, Dept. of Molecular Biology, Umeå University, SE-90187, Umeå, Sweden. E-mail: magnus.lundmark@molbiol.umu.se


Asexual forms of invertebrates are relatively common. They are often more successful than their sexual progenitors. Especially in insects, the pattern called geographical parthenogenesis shows that asexuality is important in speciation and ecological adaptation. In geographical parthenogenesis the clones have a wider distribution than the sexual forms they originate from. This indicates that they have a broader niche they may utilize successfully. The cause of this apparent success is, however, hard to come by as the term asexuality covers separate phenomena that are hard to disentangle from the mode of reproduction itself. Asexual insects are often polyploid, of hybrid origin, or both and these phenomena have been argued to explain the distribution patterns better than clonality. In this study we survey the literature on arthropods with geographical parthenogenesis in an attempt to clarify what evidence there is for the different phenomena explaining the success of the clonal forms. We focus on the few species where knowledge of distribution of different ploidy levels allows for a distinction of contributions from different phenomena to be made. Our survey support that asexuality is not the only factor underlying the success of all asexuals. Evidence about the importance of a hybrid origin of the clones is found to be meagre as the origin of clones is unknown in the majority of cases. Asexuality, hybridity and polyploidy are intertwined phenomena that each and all may contribute to the success of clonal taxa. Polyploidy, however, emerges as the most parsimonious factor explaining the success of these asexual invertebrate taxa.