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Evolution. 2010 May;64(5):1346-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00893.x. Epub 2009 Nov 17.

DNA evidence for nonhybrid origins of parthenogenesis in natural populations of vertebrates.

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Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority and Department of Plant Biology, The University of Western Australia, West Perth, 6005, Western Australia, Australia.


Naturally occurring unisexual reproduction has been documented in less than 0.1% of all vertebrate species. Among vertebrates, true parthenogenesis is known only in squamate reptiles. In all vertebrate cases that have been carefully studied, the clonal or hemiclonal taxa have originated through hybridization between closely related sexual species. In contrast, parthenogenetic reproduction has arisen in invertebrates by a variety of mechanisms, including likely cases of "spontaneous" (nonhybrid) origin, a situation not currently documented in natural populations of vertebrates. Here, we present molecular data from the Neotropical night lizard genus Lepidophyma that provides evidence of independent nonhybrid origins for diploid unisexual populations of two species from Costa Rica and Panama. Our mitochondrial and nuclear phylogenies are congruent with respect to the unisexual taxa. Based on 14 microsatellite loci, heterozygosity (expected from a hybrid origin) is low in Lepidophyma reticulatum and completely absent in unisexual L. flavimaculatum. The unique value of this system will allow direct comparative studies between parthenogenetic and sexual lineages in vertebrates, with an enormous potential for this species to be a model system for understanding the mechanisms of nonhybrid parthenogenesis.

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