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Evolution. 2006 Feb;60(2):328-47.

The evolution of unisexuality in Calligrapha leaf beetles: molecular and ecological insights on multiple origins via interspecific hybridization.

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Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom.


Interspecific hybridization is a well-established cause of unisexual origins in vertebrates. This mechanism is also suspected in other apomictic taxa, but compelling evidence is rare. Here, we evaluate this mechanism and other hypotheses for the evolutionary origins of unisexuality through an investigation of Calligrapha leaf beetles. This group provides an intriguing subject for studies of unisexual evolution because it presents a rare insect example of multiple apomictic thelytokous species within a primarily bisexual genus. To investigate unisexual evolution, this study conducts the first molecular systematic analysis of Calligrapha. This involved the collection and analysis of about 3000 bp of DNA sequences--representing RNA and protein-coding loci from mitochondrial and nuclear genomes--from 54 specimens of 25 Calligrapha species, including four unisexual tetraploid taxa. Phylogenetic and molecular clock analyses indicated independent and single evolutionary origins of each of these unisexual species during the Pleistocene. Significant phylogenetic incongruence was detected between mitochondrial and nuclear datasets and found to be especially associated with the asexual taxa. This pattern is expected when unisexual lineages arise via interspecific hybridization and thus represent genetic mosaics that possess certain nuclear alleles from the paternal species lineage and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) alleles from the maternal parent. Analyzing the mtDNA and nuclear relatedness of unisexuals with corresponding haplotypes of bisexual Calligrapha species allowed the putative identification of these maternal and paternal species lineages for each unisexual species. Strong phenotypic similarities between unisexual taxa and their paternal parent species supported a model that involves both backcrosses of interspecific hybrids with a paternal parent and unreduced gametes. This model accounts for the origins of apomixis, polyploidy, and an overrepresentation of paternal nuclear alleles (and associated phenotypes) in unisexuals. This model is also consistent with the tetraploid karyotypes of unisexual Calligrapha, in which three sets of chromosomes (of presumed paternal ancestry) are quite morphologically homogeneous compared to the fourth. Especially intriguing was a consistent association of unisexual species with the host plant of the paternal parent but never with the maternal host. The statistical implausibility of these patterns occurring by chance further supports our inference of parental species. Moreover, it points to a potentially critical role for host-association in the formation and preservation of unisexual lineages. These findings suggest that ecological factors are critical for the diversification of unisexual as well as bisexual taxa and thus point out new research directions in the area of ecological speciation.

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