The factors contributing to the maintenance of sex over asexuality in natural populations remain unclear. Ecological divergences between sexual and asexual lineages could help to maintain reproductive polymorphisms, at least transiently, but the consequences of asexuality for the evolution of ecological niches are unknown. Here, we investigated how niche breadths change in transitions from sexual reproduction to asexuality. We used host plant ranges as a proxy to compare the realized feeding niche breadths of five independently derived asexual Timema stick insect species and their sexual relatives at both the species and population levels. Asexual species had systematically narrower realized niches than sexual species, though this pattern was not apparent at the population level. To investigate how the narrower realized niches of asexual species arise, we performed feeding experiments to estimate fundamental niche breadths but found no systematic differences between reproductive modes. The narrow realized niches found in asexual species are therefore probably a consequence of biotic interactions such as predation or competition, that constrain realized niche size in asexuals more strongly than in sexuals.
Keywords: Timema stick insects; degree of specialization; herbivorous insect; host plant range; realized versus fundamental niche; sexual versus asexual reproduction.
© 2018 The Authors.