Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 115–123 | Cite as

Using Parthenogenetic Lineages to Identify Advantages of Sex

Synthesis Paper


The overwhelming predominance of sexual reproduction in nature is surprising given that sex is expected to confer profound costs in terms of production of males and the breakup of beneficial allele combinations. Recognition of these theoretical costs was the inspiration for a large body of empirical research—typically focused on comparing sexual and asexual organisms, lineages, or genomes—dedicated to identifying the advantages and maintenance of sex in natural populations. Despite these efforts, why sex is so common remains unclear. Here, we argue that we can generate general insights into the advantages of sex by taking advantage of parthenogenetic taxa that differ in such characteristics as meiotic versus mitotic offspring production, ploidy level, and single versus multiple and hybrid versus non-hybrid origin. We begin by evaluating benefits that sex can confer via its effects on genetic linkage, diversity, and heterozygosity and outline how the three classes of benefits make different predictions for which type of parthenogenetic lineage would be favored over others. Next, we describe the type of parthenogenetic model system (if any) suitable for testing whether the hypothesized benefit might contribute to the maintenance of sex in natural populations, and suggest groups of organisms that fit the specifications. We conclude by discussing how empirical estimates of characteristics such as time since derivation and number of independent origins of asexual lineages from sexual ancestors, ploidy levels, and patterns of molecular evolution from representatives of these groups can be used to better understand which mechanisms maintain sex in natural populations.


Asexuality Parthenogenesis Meiosis Sexual reproduction 



M. Neiman acknowledges funding from the Carver Trust and the University of Iowa, and T. Schwander from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

Supplementary material

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.Evolutionary Genetics, Center for Ecological and Evolutionary StudiesUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

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