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Open Access Research article

Geographic parthenogenesis and plant-enemy interactions in the common dandelion

Koen JF Verhoeven* and Arjen Biere

Author Affiliations

Department of Terrestrial Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Droevendaalsesteeg 10, Wageningen, 6708 PB, The Netherlands

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:23  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-23

Published: 28 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Many species with sexual and asexual variants show a pattern of geographic parthenogenesis where asexuals have broader and higher-latitude distribution than sexuals. Because sexual reproduction is often considered a costly evolutionary strategy that is advantageous in the face of selection by coevolving pests and pathogens, one possible explanation for geographic parthenogenesis is that populations at higher latitudes are exposed to fewer pests and pathogens. We tested this hypothesis in the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), a species with well-established geographic parthenogenesis, by screening prevalence and effects of several specialized pests and pathogens in natural dandelion populations.

Results

We did a population survey of 18 dandelion populations along a geographic transect that ranged from the area where sexual and asexual dandelions co-occur northward into the area where only asexuals occur. In addition we used four southern and four northern populations in a 8x8 cross-inoculation greenhouse experiment in which plants were exposed experimentally to each other’s natural field soil microbial communities. The cross-inoculation experiment indicated a higher pathogenicity of soil microbial communities from the southern, mostly sexual, populations compared to soil microbial communities from the northern asexual populations. Northern dandelion populations also showed reduced infestation by a specialized seed-eating weevil. A similar trend of reduced rust fungus infection in northern populations was observed but this trend was not statistically significant.

Conclusions

The prevalence of pests and pathogens decreased along the south-to-north axis of geographic parthenogenesis. This highlights the potential of biotic interactions in shaping patterns of geographic parthenogenesis.

Keywords:
Red Queen; Taraxacum; Plant-insect interactions; Plant-pathogen interactions; Soil feedback