Natural animal populations are rarely screened for ploidy-level variation at a scale that allows detection of potentially important aberrations of common ploidy patterns. This type of screening can be especially important for the many mixed sexual/asexual systems in which sexuals are presumed to be dioecious diploids and asexuals are assumed to be triploid and all-female. For example, elevation of ploidy level above triploidy can be a source of genetic variation and raises the possibility of gene flow among ploidy levels and to asexual lineages. We used flow cytometry and mtDNA sequencing to characterize ploidy level and genome size in Potamopyrgus antipodarum, a New Zealand freshwater snail where obligate sexual (presumed diploid and dioecious) and obligate apomictic asexual (presumed triploid and nearly all female) individuals frequently coexist. We documented the widespread occurrence and multiple origins of polyploid males and individuals with >3× ploidy, and find that both are likely to be descended from asexual females. Our survey also suggested the existence of extensive variation in genome size. The discovery of widespread variation in ploidy level and genome size in such a well-studied system highlights the importance of broad, extensive, and ecologically representative sampling in uncovering ploidy level and genome-size variation in natural populations.
© 2011 The Author(s). Evolution© 2011 The Society for the Study of Evolution.