From Sex to Asex: a case study on interactions between sexual and asexuel reproduction



The paradox of sex remains the queen of problems in evolutionary biology. Sexual reproduction is widespread throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, but under certain conditions remains costly compared to asexual reproduction. Sex creates a wide variety of genotypes on which natural selection can act, but it also breaks up favourable gene combinations. Asexuals have the ability to preserve their genome and to propagate genotypes that have a previous history of success. In addition, asexuals can reproduce twice as fast as sexuals, because all, rather than half, of their offspring are themselves capable of reproduction. Although asexual reproduction offers several clear short-term advantages, ruling evolutionary theory dictates that the absence of a mechanism for rapid genetic change will direct clones persisting over long time frames into evolutionary dead ends. Several animal and plant groups nevertheless show a large incidence of asexual reproduction and some lineages might have been fully asexual for many millions of years.