The continuous generation of genetic variation has been proposed as one of the main factors explaining the maintenance of sexual reproduction in nature. However, populations of asexual individuals may attain high levels of genetic diversity through within-lineage diversification, replicate transitions to asexuality from sexual ancestors and migration. How these mechanisms affect genetic variation in populations of closely related sexual and asexual taxa can therefore provide insights into the role of genetic diversity for the maintenance of sexual reproduction. Here, we evaluate patterns of intra- and interpopulation genetic diversity in sexual and asexual populations of Aptinothrips rufus grass thrips. Asexual A. rufus populations are found throughout the world, whereas sexual populations appear to be confined to few locations in the Mediterranean region. We found that asexual A. rufus populations are characterized by extremely high levels of genetic diversity, both in comparison with their sexual relatives and in comparison with other asexual species. Migration is extensive among asexual populations over large geographic distances, whereas close sexual populations are strongly isolated from each other. The combination of extensive migration with replicate evolution of asexual lineages, and a past demographic expansion in at least one of them, generated high local clone diversities in A. rufus. These high clone diversities in asexual populations may mimic certain benefits conferred by sex via genetic diversity and could help explain the extreme success of asexual A. rufus populations.
Keywords: Thysanoptera; asexuality; gamete duplication; genetic diversity; haplodiploidy; microsatellites; mitochondrial; nuclear; parthenogenesis; thrips.
© 2016 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of European Society for Evolutionary Biology.