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Sexual conflict and the evolution of asexuality at low population densities


Gerber, Nina; Kokko, Hanna (2016). Sexual conflict and the evolution of asexuality at low population densities. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 283(1841):20161280.

Abstract

Theories for the evolution of sex rarely include facultatively sexual reproduction. Sexual harassment by males is an underappreciated factor: it should at first sight increase the relative advantage of asexual reproduction by increasing the cost of sex. However, if the same females can perform either sexual or asexual life cycles, then females trying to reproduce asexually may not escape harassment. If resisting male harassment is costly, it might be beneficial for a female to accept a mating and undertake a sexual life cycle rather than ‘insist’ on an asexual one. We investigate the effects of sexual harassment on the maintenance of sex under different population densities. Our model shows that resisting matings pays off at low population densities, which leads to the complete extinction of males, and thus to the evolution of completely asexual populations. Facultative sex persists in a narrow range of slightly higher densities. At high densities, selection favours giving up resisting male mating attempts and thus sexual reproduction takes over. These interactions between the outcomes of sexual conflict and population density suggest an explanation for the rarity of facultative sex and also patterns of geographical parthenogenesis, where marginal environments with potentially low densities are associated with asexuality.

Abstract

Theories for the evolution of sex rarely include facultatively sexual reproduction. Sexual harassment by males is an underappreciated factor: it should at first sight increase the relative advantage of asexual reproduction by increasing the cost of sex. However, if the same females can perform either sexual or asexual life cycles, then females trying to reproduce asexually may not escape harassment. If resisting male harassment is costly, it might be beneficial for a female to accept a mating and undertake a sexual life cycle rather than ‘insist’ on an asexual one. We investigate the effects of sexual harassment on the maintenance of sex under different population densities. Our model shows that resisting matings pays off at low population densities, which leads to the complete extinction of males, and thus to the evolution of completely asexual populations. Facultative sex persists in a narrow range of slightly higher densities. At high densities, selection favours giving up resisting male mating attempts and thus sexual reproduction takes over. These interactions between the outcomes of sexual conflict and population density suggest an explanation for the rarity of facultative sex and also patterns of geographical parthenogenesis, where marginal environments with potentially low densities are associated with asexuality.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:September 2016
Deposited On:30 May 2017 13:16
Last Modified:30 May 2017 13:17
Publisher:Royal Society Publishing
ISSN:0962-8452
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2016.1280

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