Can asexuality confer a short-term advantage? Investigating apparent biogeographic success in the apomictic triploid fern Myriopteris gracilis
Wickell, David A.
Windham, Michael D.
Macdonald, Stuart J.
Beck, James B.
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Wickell, David A.; Windham, Michael D.; Wang, Xiaofei; Macdonald, Stuart J.; Beck, James B. 2017. Can asexuality confer a short-term advantage? Investigating apparent biogeographic success in the apomictic triploid fern Myriopteris gracilis. American Journal of Botany, vol. 104:no. 8:pp 1254–1265
PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Although asexual taxa are generally seen as evolutionary dead ends, asexuality appears to provide a short-term benefit in some taxa, including a wider geographic distribution compared to sexual relatives. However, this may be an illusion created by multiple, morphologically cryptic, asexual lineages, each occupying a relatively small area. In this study we investigate the role of multiple lineages in the biogeography of Myriopteris gracilis Fee (Pteridaceae), a North American apomictic triploid fern species with a particularly large range. METHODS: Range-wide asexuality was assessed by counting spores/sporangium in 606 Myriopteris gracilis specimens from across the species range, and lineage structure was assessed with both plastid DNA sequence and Genotyping By Sequencing (GBS) SNP datasets. KEY RESULTS: Spore counting of >600 specimens identified no sexual populations, establishing that Myriopteris gracilis is exclusively asexual. The plastid data estimated the crown age of M. gracilis at ca. 2.5 mya and identified two lineages, each largely confined to the eastern or western portions of the range. These groups were further subdivided by the GBS data, revealing at least seven asexual lineages of varying geographic distributions, each occupying a relatively small portion of the total range of M. gracilis. CONCLUSIONS: Although maintained exclusively through asexual reproduction, the broad distribution of Myriopteris gracilis is a compilation of numerous, independently formed asexual lineages. Since no single asexual lineage occupies the full extent of the species distribution, recurrent lineage formation should be considered when evaluating the short-term benefit of asexuality in this taxon and others.
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