media release

Sexless for a million years, stick bugs elude extinction

July 14, 2011

Tanya Schwander, (in the Netherlands) +31 50 363 2134;
Bernie Crespi, 778.782.3533;
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210/9017;


Walking stick insect
Photos on Flickr

Simon Fraser University biologists say a species of stick insect found to be celibate for 1.5 million years raises questions about why these particular lineages have escaped extinction thus far.

In a paper published in the journal Current Biology, SFU biology professor Bernie Crespi and Tanja Schwander, a former post-doctoral researcher in Crespi’s lab, say the persistence of the insect, known as the genus Timema, is most likely because of a combination of genetic and ecological processes.

The researchers used a series of genetic analyses to show that several clonal or cloned lineages in the stick insect, mainly found in the western U.S., have persisted for more than one million generations. The finding raises questions around why they’ve eluded extinction to date and has allowed researchers to address the consequences of long-term clonality.

“Why most species reproduce sexually is a big question in evolutionary biology, because at least theoretically, it appears that clonal reproduction would be more efficient,” says Schwander, currently a fellow in evolutionary genetics at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands.

“Many genetic and ecological mechanisms have been suggested that could result in disadvantages of clonal reproduction. One common expectation of these mechanisms is that reproductive advantages gained by new clonal lineages will be quickly eroded over time.”

Their genetic studies led the researchers to determine the last point in time the insect line engaged in sex. Their findings add to the growing evidence that asexuality does not always result in the rapid extinction of a lineage and are the basis of their ongoing research.


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