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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Apr 7;275(1636):817-25. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1199.

How populations persist when asexuality requires sex: the spatial dynamics of coping with sperm parasites.

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  • 1Department of Biological and Environmental Science, Laboratory of Ecological and Evolutionary Dynamics, University of Helsinki, PO Box 65 (Viikinkaari 1), 00014 Helsinki, Finland.


The twofold cost of sex implies that sexual and asexual reproduction do not coexist easily. Asexual forms tend to outcompete sexuals but may eventually suffer higher extinction rates, creating tension between short- and long-term advantages of different reproductive modes. The 'short-sightedness' of asexual reproduction takes a particularly intriguing form in gynogenetic species complexes, in which an asexual species requires sperm from a related sexual host species to trigger embryogenesis. Asexuals are then predicted to outcompete their host, after which neither species can persist. We examine whether spatial structure can explain continued coexistence of the species complex, and assess the evidence based on data on the Amazon molly (Poecilia formosa). A modification of the Levins metapopulation model creates two regions of good prospects for coexistence, connected by a region of poorer patch occupancy levels. In the first case, mate discrimination and/or niche differentiation keep local extinction rates low, and most patches contain both species; the other possibility resembles host-parasite dynamics where parasites frequently drive the host locally extinct. Several dynamical features are counterintuitive and relate to the parasitic nature of interactions in the species complex: for example, high local extinction rates of the asexual species can be beneficial for its own persistence. This creates a link from the evolution of sexual reproduction to that of prudent predation.

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