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Sex Dev. 2008;2(6):290-301. doi: 10.1159/000195678. Epub 2009 Mar 10.

Facultative parthenogenesis in vertebrates: reproductive error or chance?

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  • Evolutionary Ecology and Biodiversity of Animals, University of Bochum, Bochum, Germany. kathrin.lampert@ruhr-uni-bochum.de


Parthenogenesis, the development of an embryo from a female gamete without any contribution of a male gamete, is very rare in vertebrates. Parthenogenetically reproducing species have, so far, only been found in the Squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes). Facultative parthenogenesis, switching between sexual and clonal reproduction, although quite common in invertebrates, e.g. Daphnia and aphids, seems to be even rarer in vertebrates. However, isolated cases of parthenogenetic development have been reported in all vertebrate groups. Facultative parthenogenesis in vertebrates has only been found in captive animals but might simply have been overlooked in natural populations. Even though its evolutionary impact is hard to determine and very likely varies depending on the ploidy restoration mechanisms and sex-determining mechanisms involved, facultative parthenogenesis is already discussed in conservation biology and medical research. To raise interest for facultative parthenogenesis especially in evolutionary biology, I summarize the current knowledge about facultative parthenogenesis in the different vertebrate groups, introduce mechanisms of diploid oocyte formation and discuss the genetic consequences and potential evolutionary impact of facultative parthenogenesis in vertebrates.

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