Coexistence in space and time of sexual and asexual populations of the cereal aphid Sitobion avenae
Aphids typically reproduce by cyclical parthenogenesis, with a single sexual generation alternating with numerous asexual generations each year. However, some species exhibit different life cycle variants with various degrees of investment in sexuality. We tested the hypothesis that these life cycle variants are selected in space and time by climatic factors, mainly winter severity, due to an ecological link between sexual reproduction and the production of a cold-resistant form, the egg. More than 600 clones of the aphid Sitobion avenae F. were collected in five to six regions of France with contrasting climates during 3 consecutive years and compared for their production of sexual forms in standardised conditions. As predicted by a recent model of breeding system distribution and maintenance in aphids, we found a clear shift between northern and southern populations, with decreasing sexuality southwards. Life cycle variants investing entirely or partly in sexual reproduction in autumn predominated in northern sites, while obligate parthenogens and male-producers dominated in the southern sites. No clear east–west pattern of decreasing sexuality was found, and annualvariation in the relative proportions of life cycle variants was not clearly influenced by the severity of the previous winter. These latter results suggest that other selection pressures could interact with winter climate to determine the local life cycle polymorphism in S. avenae populations.
KeywordsAphididae Cyclical parthenogenesis Sex evolution Clone France
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