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Biol Lett. 2012 Dec 23;8(6):983-5. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0666. Epub 2012 Sep 12.

Facultative parthenogenesis discovered in wild vertebrates.

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1
Department of Entomology and W. M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, North Carolina State University, PO Box 7613, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA. warren-booth@utulsa.edu

Abstract

Facultative parthenogenesis (FP)-asexual reproduction by bisexual species-has been documented in a variety of multi-cellular organisms but only recently in snakes, varanid lizards, birds and sharks. Unlike the approximately 80 taxa of unisexual reptiles, amphibians and fishes that exist in nature, FP has yet to be documented in the wild. Based on captive documentation, it appears that FP is widespread in squamate reptiles (snakes, lizards and amphisbaenians), and its occurrence in nature seems inevitable, yet the task of detecting FP in wild individuals has been deemed formidable. Here we show, using microsatellite DNA genotyping and litter characteristics, the first cases of FP in wild-collected pregnant females and their offspring of two closely related species of North American pitviper snakes-the copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus). Our findings support the view that non-hybrid origins of parthenogenesis, such as FP, are more common in squamates than previously thought. With this confirmation, FP can no longer be viewed as a rare curiosity outside the mainstream of vertebrate evolution. Future research on FP in squamate reptiles related to proximate control of induction, reproductive competence of parthenogens and population genetics modelling is warranted.

PMID:
22977071
PMCID:
PMC3497136
DOI:
10.1098/rsbl.2012.0666
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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