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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Large variation in mitochondrial DNA of sexual and parthenogenetic Dahlica triquetrella (Lepidoptera: Psychidae) shows multiple origins of parthenogenesis

Jelmer A Elzinga1*, Jukka Jokela2 and Lisa NS Shama23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental and Biological Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, P.O. Box 35, 40014, Jyväskylä, Finland

2 EAWAG, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, and ETH-Zürich, Institute of Integrative Biology, Ueberlandstrasse 133, 8600, Dübendorf, Switzerland

3 Current address: Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Wadden Sea Station Sylt, Hafenstraße 43, D-25992, List/Sylt, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:90  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-90

Published: 26 April 2013



Obligate parthenogenesis is relatively rare in animals. Still, in some groups it is quite common and has evolved and persisted multiple times. These groups may provide important clues to help solve the ‘paradox of sex’. Several species in the Psychidae (Lepidoptera) have obligate parthenogenesis. Dahlica triquetrella is one of those species where multiple transitions to parthenogenesis are postulated based on intensive cytological and behavioural studies. This has led to the hypothesis that multiple transitions from sexuals to diploid parthenogens occurred during and after the last glacial period, followed by transitions from parthenogenetic diploids to parthenogenetic tetraploids. Our study is the first to test these hypotheses using a molecular phylogeny based on mtDNA from multiple sexual and parthenogenetic populations from a wide geographic range.


Parthenogenetic (and sexual) D. triquetrella are not monophyletic, and considerable sequence variation is present suggesting multiple transitions to parthenogenesis. However, we could not establish ancestral sexual haplotypes from our dataset. Our data suggest that some parthenogenetic clades have evolved, indicating origins of parthenogenesis before the last glacial period.


Multiple transitions to parthenogenesis have taken place in Dahlica triquetrella, confirming previous hypotheses. The number of different parthenogenetic clades, haplotypes and their apparent evolutionary age, clearly show that parthenogenesis has been a very successful reproductive strategy in this species over a long period.

Asexual; Automixis; COI; COII; Phylogeny; Tetraploid