Biologists identify influence of environment on sexual vs. asexual reproduction

Oct 14, 2010

Evolutionary biologists at the University of Toronto have found that environment plays a key role in determining whether a species opts for sexual over asexual reproduction.

The study, led by post-doctoral student Lutz Becks and Professor Aneil Agrawal of the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, found that species that inhabit spatially heterogenous environments – habitats characterized by uneven concentrations of its own species among a rich variety of other animals and plants – had higher rates of sexual than those in more homogenous environments.

"Sexual reproduction is pervasive across the tree of life," says Agrawal. "One of the classic questions in evolutionary biology is to determine why most organisms reproduce sexually rather than asexually. Whatever evolutionary force maintains this mode of reproduction across such a diversity of life must be one of the most powerful and important factors in biology. Our work suggests that spatial heterogeneity is one of these key factors."

Furthermore, sexual reproduction resulted in organisms that are adept across different environments, with different characteristics and more robust genetic constitutions than their asexually-reproducing counterparts.

"Put simply, sexual reproduction helps create genotypes that are better able to survive across different environments. In contrast, yields types that are suited to only one environment," says Agrawal."

The scientists conducted their experiments with rotifers – small aquatic organisms that are capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction. They allowed populations of rotifers to evolve in habitats that were either environmentally homogeneous or heterogeneous. Over a span of more than 70 generations, the tendency for persisted at much higher levels in heterogeneous habitats and declined rapidly in homogeneous environments.

Explore further: Hermit creepy crawlies: Two new taxa of wood-feeding cockroach from China

More information: The findings appear in the paper "Higher rates of sex evolve in spatially heterogeneous environments" published October 13 in Nature.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Simplest known animals engage in sex

Oct 10, 2005

A Yale University study suggests even the most simple of animals engage in sex. Ana Signorovitch and colleagues have demonstrated placozoans, the simplest known free-living animals, undergo a sexual phase in their life cycle.

DNA clues to reproductive behaviour

May 19, 2008

A species of wild yeast goes through a cycle of sexual reproduction once in every 1,000 asexual generations, according to new research by Imperial biologists published in the PNAS journal in April.

Parasites keep things sexy in 'hotspots'

Jul 23, 2009

The coevolutionary struggle between a New Zealand snail and its worm parasite makes sex advantageous for the snail, whose females favor asexual reproduction in the absence of parasites, say Indiana University ...

'Stick men' may be rendered obsolete in insect world

Mar 24, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Male stick insects are becoming increasingly redundant, with new research showing some New Zealand female stick insects can reproduce as efficiently on their own as with a male mate.

Recommended for you

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

23 hours ago

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.