Patterns and mechanisms in instances of endosymbiont-induced parthenogenesis

J Evol Biol. 2017 May;30(5):868-888. doi: 10.1111/jeb.13069. Epub 2017 Apr 19.


Female-producing parthenogenesis can be induced by endosymbionts that increase their transmission by manipulating host reproduction. Our literature survey indicates that such endosymbiont-induced parthenogenesis is known or suspected in 124 host species from seven different arthropod taxa, with Wolbachia as the most frequent endosymbiont (in 56-75% of host species). Most host species (81%, 100 out of 124) are characterized by haplo-diploid sex determination, but a strong ascertainment bias likely underestimates the frequency of endosymbiont-induced parthenogenesis in hosts with other sex determination systems. In at least one taxon, hymenopterans, endosymbionts are a significant driver of transitions from sexual to parthenogenetic reproduction, with one-third of lineages being parthenogenetic as a consequence of endosymbiont infection. Endosymbiont-induced parthenogenesis appears to facilitate the maintenance of reproductive polymorphism: at least 50% of species comprise both sexual (uninfected) and parthenogenetic (infected) strains. These strains feature distribution differences similar to the ones documented for lineages with genetically determined parthenogenesis, with endosymbiont-induced parthenogens occurring at higher latitudes than their sexual relatives. Finally, although gamete duplication is often considered as the main mechanism for endosymbiont-induced parthenogenesis, it underlies parthenogenesis in only half of the host species studied thus far. We point out caveats in the methods used to test for endosymbiont-induced parthenogenesis and suggest specific approaches that allow for firm conclusions about the involvement of endosymbionts in the origin of parthenogenesis.

Keywords: Wolbachia; bacteria; endosymbionts; gamete duplication; haplo-diploid sex determination; infectious parthenogenesis; thelytoky.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diploidy
  • Female
  • Hymenoptera
  • Parthenogenesis*
  • Symbiosis*
  • Wolbachia* / genetics
  • Wolbachia* / physiology