Changes from sexual reproduction to female-producing parthenogenesis (thelytoky) have great evolutionary and ecological consequences, but how many times parthenogenesis evolved in different animal taxa is unknown. We present the first exhaustive database covering 765 cases of parthenogenesis in haplodiploid (arrhenotokous) arthropods, and estimate frequencies of parthenogenesis in different taxonomic groups. We show that the frequency of parthenogenetic lineages extensively varies among groups (0-38% among genera), that many species have both sexual and parthenogenetic lineages and that polyploidy is very rare. Parthenogens are characterized by broad ecological niches: parasitoid and phytophagous parthenogenetic species consistently use more host species, and have larger, polewards extended geographic distributions than their sexual relatives. These differences did not solely evolve after the transition to parthenogenesis. Extant parthenogens often derive from sexual ancestors with relatively broad ecological niches and distributions. As these ecological attributes are associated with large population sizes, our results strongly suggests that transitions to parthenogenesis are more frequent in large sexual populations and/or that the risk of extinction of parthenogens with large population sizes is reduced. The species database presented here provides insights into the maintenance of sex and parthenogenesis in natural populations that are not taxon specific and opens perspectives for future comparative studies.
Keywords: Hymenoptera; Thysanoptera; arrhenotoky; asexual reproduction; haplodiploidy; niche breadth; polyploidy; thelytoky.