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Geographic parthenogenesis and the common tea-tree stick insect of New Zealand

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Abstract

Worldwide, parthenogenetic reproduction has evolved many times in the stick insects (Phasmatidae). Many parthenogenetic stick insects show the distribution pattern known as geographic parthenogenesis, in that they occupy habitats that are at higher altitude or latitude compared with their sexual relatives. Although it is often assumed that, in the short term, parthenogenetic populations will have a reproductive advantage over sexual populations; this is not necessarily the case. We present data on the distribution and evolutionary relationships of sexual and asexual populations of the New Zealand stick insect, Clitarchus hookeri. Males are common in the northern half of the species’ range but rare or absent elsewhere, and we found that most C. hookeri from putative-parthenogenetic populations share a common ancestor. Female stick insects from bisexual populations of Clitarchus hookeri are capable of parthenogenetic reproduction, but those insects from putative-parthenogenetic populations produced few offspring via sexual reproduction when males were available. We found similar fertility (hatching success) in mated and virgin females. Mated females produce equal numbers of male and female offspring, with most hatching about 9–16 weeks after laying. In contrast, most eggs from unmated females took longer to hatch (21–23 weeks), and most offspring were female. It appears that all C. hookeri females are capable of parthenogenetic reproduction, and thus could benefit from the numerical advantage this yields. Nevertheless, our phylogeographic evidence shows that the majority of all-female populations over a wide geographic area originate from a single loss of sexual reproduction.
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Keywords: asexual reproduction; developmental rate; fertility; geographic parthenogenesis; sexual reproduction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Ecology Group, Allan Wilson Center for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, INR, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand 2: Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand

Publication date: 2010-03-01

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