Sexual species are separated by larger genetic gaps than asexual species in rotifers

Evolution. 2014 Oct;68(10):2901-16. doi: 10.1111/evo.12483. Epub 2014 Jul 25.


Why organisms diversify into discrete species instead of showing a continuum of genotypic and phenotypic forms is an important yet rarely studied question in speciation biology. Does species discreteness come from adaptation to fill discrete niches or from interspecific gaps generated by reproductive isolation? We investigate the importance of reproductive isolation by comparing genetic discreteness, in terms of intra- and interspecific variation, between facultatively sexual monogonont rotifers and obligately asexual bdelloid rotifers. We calculated the age (phylogenetic distance) and average pairwise genetic distance (raw distance) within and among evolutionarily significant units of diversity in six bdelloid clades and seven monogonont clades sampled for 4211 individuals in total. We find that monogonont species are more discrete than bdelloid species with respect to divergence between species but exhibit similar levels of intraspecific variation (species cohesiveness). This pattern arises because bdelloids have diversified into discrete genetic clusters at a faster net rate than monogononts. Although sampling biases or differences in ecology that are independent of sexuality might also affect these patterns, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that bdelloids diversified at a faster rate into less discrete species because their diversification does not depend on the evolution of reproductive isolation.

Keywords: Biodiversity; GMYC; diversification rate; ecological speciation; species delimitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Genetics, Population
  • Linear Models
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny*
  • Reproduction, Asexual / genetics*
  • Rotifera / classification*
  • Rotifera / physiology
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Mitochondrial