The maintenance of males and outcrossing is widespread, despite considerable costs of males. By enabling recombination between distinct genotypes, outcrossing may be advantageous during adaptation to novel environments and if so, it should be selected for under environmental challenge. However, a given environmental change may influence fitness of male, female, and hermaphrodite or asexual individuals differently, and hence the relationship between reproductive system and dynamics of adaptation to novel conditions may not be driven solely by the level of outcrossing and recombination. This has important implications for studies investigating the evolution of reproductive modes in the context of environmental changes, and for the extent to which their findings can be generalized. Here, we use Caenorhabditis elegans—a free-living nematode species in which hermaphrodites (capable of selfing but not cross-fertilizing each other) coexist with males (capable of fertilizing hermaphrodites)—to investigate the response of wild type as well as obligatorily outcrossing and obligatorily selfing lines to stressfully increased ambient temperature. We found that thermal stress affects fitness of outcrossers much more drastically than that of selfers. This shows that apart from the potential for recombination, the selective pressures imposed by the same environmental change can differ between populations expressing different reproductive systems and affect their adaptive potential.
Evolutionary Biology – Springer Journals
Published: Mar 3, 2017
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