Multiple routes to asexuality in an aphid species

F. Delmotte

Abstract

Cyclical parthenogens, including aphids, are important models for studying the evolution of sex. However, little is known about transitions to asexuality in aphids, although the mode of origin of asexual lineages has important consequences for their level of genetic diversity, ecological adaptability and the outcome of competition with their sexual relatives. Thus, we surveyed nuclear, mitochondrial and biological data obtained on cyclical and obligate parthenogens of the bird cherry–oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi (L), to investigate the frequency of transitions from sexuality to permanent asexuality. Many instances of asexual lineages retaining the ability to produce males are known in aphids, so particular attention was paid to the existence of occasional matings between females from sexual lineages and males produced by asexual lineages, which have the potential to produce new asexual lineages. Phylogenetic inference based on microsatellite and mitochondrial data indicates at least three independent origins of asexuality in R. padi, yielding the strongest evidence to date for multiple origins of asexuality in an aphid. Moreover, several lines of evidence demonstrate that transitions to asexuality result from two mechanisms: a complete spontaneous loss of sex and repeated gene flow from essentially asexual lineages into sexual ones.