Natural populations of sexually reproducing Drosophila mercatorum are capable of a very low rate of parthenogenesis, but this mode of reproduction has apparently never characterized an entirely asexual population in this species. The high abortion rate observed in laboratory parthenogenetic lines suggests that developmental constraints may cause the failure of this trait to spread in nature. To investigate the basis of this developmental instability and how it may affect the evolution of parthenogenesis in natural populations, early embryonic development was compared between one sexual and four parthenogenetic laboratory strains of D. mercatorum. There is a large amount of variation within a given parthenogenetic strain, suggesting that parthenogenesis is associated with a general breakdown of developmental stability. There is relatively little variation among different parthenogenetic strains, suggesting that most abortions are due to a feature inherent to parthenogenetic reproduction rather than a feature of a particular genome. Likewise, there is little variation between parthenogenetic and sexual strains in the causes of abortions, suggesting that the developmental problems encountered by parthenogenetic lineages are not unique to parthenogens. Thus, the failure of parthenogenesis to spread within D. mercatorum can be attributed to no particular developmental constraint per se operating after the initiation of embryogenesis. However, the overall increase in all developmental problems that occurs with the transition from sexual to parthenogenetic development suggests that the high degree of developmental instability associated with parthenogenesis may be considered a developmental constraint in its own right.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Developmental Biology