Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Published in New Phytologist (2010) 186: 769–779. Copyright 2010, the authors. Used by permission. DOI: 10.1111 ⁄ j.1469-8137.2010.03201.x. Includes supplemental data.


Despite an abundance of theory, few empirical studies have explored the ecological and evolutionary consequences of sex. We used a comparative phylogenetic approach to examine whether transitions between sexual and asexual reproduction are associated with changes in the size and distribution of species’ geographical ranges, and their investment in reproduction.

Here, we reconstructed the phylogeny of the genus Oenothera sections Oenothera and Calylophus (Onagraceae), which contain 35 sexual and 30 functionally asexual species. From each species, we collected data on the geographical distribution and variation in plant traits related to reproduction.

Functionally asexual species occurred at higher latitudes, but did not differ in range size, compared with sexual species. Transitions to asexuality were associated with decreased investment in floral structures, including the length of petals, floral tubes and styles. Decreased anther size and increased seed size within asexual species also suggest altered allocation to male and female fitness.

The observed range shifts are consistent with superior colonization of environments by asexual species following glaciation, and the observed changes in reproductive allocation support predictions made by models relating to the evolution of selfing. Our results suggest that the evolutionary consequences of asexual reproduction might be less restrictive than previously thought.

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