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Mol Ecol. 2018 Jan;27(1):248-263. doi: 10.1111/mec.14377. Epub 2017 Nov 29.

Hybrid asexuality as a primary postzygotic barrier between nascent species: On the interconnection between asexuality, hybridization and speciation.

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Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics, Laboratory of Fish Genetics, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Libechov, Czech Republic.
Department of Biology and Ecology, Faculty of Science, University of Ostrava, Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Institute of Molecular Genetics, Laboratory of Genomics and Bioinformatics, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic.
Department of Statistical Science, University College London, London, UK.
Department of Fish Ecology, Institute of Vertebrate Biology, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Brno, Czech Republic.
Schmalhausen Institute of Zoology of NAS of Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine.
Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic.


Although sexual reproduction is ubiquitous throughout nature, the molecular machinery behind it has been repeatedly disrupted during evolution, leading to the emergence of asexual lineages in all eukaryotic phyla. Despite intensive research, little is known about what causes the switch from sexual reproduction to asexuality. Interspecific hybridization is one of the candidate explanations, but the reasons for the apparent association between hybridization and asexuality remain unclear. In this study, we combined cross-breeding experiments with population genetic and phylogenomic approaches to reveal the history of speciation and asexuality evolution in European spined loaches (Cobitis). Contemporary species readily hybridize in hybrid zones, but produce infertile males and fertile but clonally reproducing females that cannot mediate introgressions. However, our analysis of exome data indicates that intensive gene flow between species has occurred in the past. Crossings among species with various genetic distances showed that, while distantly related species produced asexual females and sterile males, closely related species produce sexually reproducing hybrids of both sexes. Our results suggest that hybridization leads to sexual hybrids at the initial stages of speciation, but as the species diverge further, the gradual accumulation of reproductive incompatibilities between species could distort their gametogenesis towards asexuality. Interestingly, comparative analysis of published data revealed that hybrid asexuality generally evolves at lower genetic divergences than hybrid sterility or inviability. Given that hybrid asexuality effectively restricts gene flow, it may establish a primary reproductive barrier earlier during diversification than other "classical" forms of postzygotic incompatibilities. Hybrid asexuality may thus indirectly contribute to the speciation process.


balance hypothesis; coalescence; evolution of asexuality; hybridization; phylogeography; speciation


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