Sex at the margins: parthenogenesis vs. facultative and obligate sex in a Neotropical ant


Correspondence: Katrin Kellner, Integrative Biology, The University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station #C0930 Austin, TX 78712, USA. Tel.: +512 471 7619; fax: +512 471 3878;e-mail:


Geographic parthenogenesis is a distribution pattern, in which parthenogenetic populations tend to live in marginal habitats, at higher latitudes and altitudes and island-like habitats compared with the sexual forms. The facultatively parthenogenetic ant Platythyrea punctata is thought to exhibit this general pattern throughout its wide range in Central America and the Caribbean Islands. Workers of P. punctata from the Caribbean produce diploid female offspring from unfertilized eggs by thelytokous parthenogenesis, and mated females and males are rare. In contrast, workers in one colony from Costa Rica were incapable of thelytoky; instead mated workers produced all female offspring. Because sample sizes were very low in former studies, we here use microsatellite markers and explicit tests of thelytoky to examine the population genetic structure of ancestral and derived populations of P. punctata throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Populations from the Caribbean islands were fully capable of parthenogenesis, and population genetic signatures indicate that this is the predominant mode of reproduction, although males are occasionally produced. In contrast, the northernmost population on the mainland (Texas) showed signatures of sexual reproduction, and individuals were incapable of reproduction by thelytoky. Contrary to expectations from a geographic parthenogenesis distribution pattern, most parts of the mainland populations were found to be facultatively thelytokous, with population genetic signatures of both sexual and parthenogenetic reproduction.