Selection of low investment in sex in a cyclically parthenogenetic rotifer

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Cyclical parthenogens, which combine asexual and sexual reproduction, are good models for research into the ecological and population processes affecting the evolutionary maintenance of sex. Sex in cyclically parthenogenetic rotifers is necessary for diapausing egg production, which is essential to survive adverse conditions between planktonic growing seasons. However, within a planktonic season sexual reproduction prevents clonal proliferation. Hence, clones with a low propensity for sex should be selected, becoming dominant in the population as the growing season progresses. In this context, we studied the dynamics of the heritable variation in propensity for sexual reproduction among clones of a Brachionus plicatilis rotifer population in a temporary Mediterranean pond during the period the species occurred in plankton. Clonal isolates displayed high heritable variation in their propensity for sex. Moreover, the frequency of clones with low propensity for sex increased during the growing season, which supports the hypothesized short-term selection for low investment in sex within a growing season. These results demonstrate (1) the inherent instability of the cyclical parthenogenetic life cycle, (2) the cost of sexual reproduction in cyclical parthenogens where sex produces diapausing eggs and (3) the role of the association between sexual reproduction and diapause in maintaining sex in these cyclical parthenogens.

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