, Volume 41, Issue 10, pp 1255-1264

Patterns in plant parthenogenesis

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Summary

Plant taxa that reproduce asexually display some distinct geographical and ecological patterns. A literature review reveals that such taxa 1) tend to have larger ranges, 2) tend to range into higher latitudes, and 3) tend to range to higher elevations than do their sexual relatives. Asexual taxa have a greater tendency than sexual taxa do to colonize once-glaciated areas. These trends have previously been identified as characteristic of parthenogenetic animals as well. While many authors have interpreted these trends as providing support for the ‘biotic uncertainty’ hypothesis for the maintenance of sex, these trends are consistent with several other interpretations as well. Furthermore, all of these interpretations have ignored the positive correlation that exists between ploidy level and breeding system: asexual plant and animal taxa are generally polyploid, while their sexual relatives are generally diploid. Evidence is presented for plants, and by extension for animals as well, that high ploidy levels alone could (independent of breeding system) endow individuals with the ability to tolerate these ‘extreme’ environments. For this reason, it appears premature to interpret observed distribution patterns as evidence to support hypotheses about what forces maintain sexual reproduction. Only experimental tests, using sexuals and asexuals of comparable ploidy levels, can permit us to discriminate among the alternatives.