Parents strongly cautioned: ant sex discussed
At The Scientist (July 18, 2011), Tia Ghose explains, “Asexual Ants Have Sex”, which will take some explaining, but here goes:
Some populations of ants long thought to be asexual get a dose of genetic diversity by having sex.
On paper, asexuality seems like a winning strategy. Sexless creatures pass on all their genes—as opposed to just half—and “you don’t have to spend huge amounts of energy going around and finding a mate and going through courtship and exposing yourself to disease,” Tsutsui said.
[ … ]
But the fungus-farming ant is one of the few species that appeared to adopt a purely asexual lifestyle: researchers had never seen a male in the wild, and ants in the lab produced clonal offspring.
But hang on,
In 4 of 31 Central and South American colonies, queens differed genetically from their offspring, pointing to sexual reproduction. So far, no one has located the male ants.
The researchers argue that entirely asexual populations may be at greater risk of extinction because they are less resilient in the face of environmental change:
“If you come back in 5 million or 10 million years, there’s a good chance the asexual lineages go extinct, but the sexual lineages are still existing.
Rube shouts in: Well, that guy won’t be proven wrong in his own lifetime.
The study may shed light on natural causes of extinction.
Citation: C. Rabeling, et. al, “Cryptic sexual populations account for genetic diversity and ecological success in a widely distributed, asexual fungus-farming ant,” PNAS, doi/10.1073/pnas.1105467108, 2011.