Temporal differentiation and spatial coexistence of sexual and facultative asexual lineages of an aphid species at mating sites

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Cases of coexisting sexual and asexual relatives are puzzling, as evolutionary theory predicts that competition for the same ecological niches should lead to the exclusion of one or the other population. In the cyclically parthenogenetic aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi, sexual and facultative asexual lineages are admixed in space at the time of sexual reproduction. We investigated how the interaction of reproductive mode and environment can lead to temporal niche differentiation. We demonstrated theoretically that differential sensitivity of sexual and facultatively asexual aphids to an environmental parameter (mating host suitability) shapes the two strategies: whereas the sexual lineages switch earlier to the production of sexual forms, the facultative asexual lineages delay and spread out their investment in sexual reproduction. This predicted pattern of niche specialization is in agreement with the temporal structure revealed in natura by demographic and genetic data. We propose that partial loss of sex by one pool of aphids and subsequent reduction in gene flow between lineages may favour temporal specialization through disruptive selection.

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