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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Origins of asexuality in Bryobia mites (Acari: Tetranychidae)

Vera ID Ros*, Johannes AJ Breeuwer and Steph BJ Menken

Author Affiliations

Evolutionary Biology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, P.O. Box 94062, 1090 GB Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:153  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-153

Published: 19 May 2008



Obligate asexual reproduction is rare in the animal kingdom. Generally, asexuals are considered evolutionary dead ends that are unable to radiate. The phytophagous mite genus Bryobia contains a large number of asexual species. In this study, we investigate the origin and evolution of asexuality using samples from 111 populations in Europe, South Africa and the United States, belonging to eleven Bryobia species. We also examine intraspecific clonal diversity for one species, B. kissophila, by genotyping individuals from 61 different populations. Knowledge on the origin of asexuality and on clonal diversity can contribute to our understanding of the paradox of sex.


The majority (94%) of 111 sampled populations reproduces asexually. Analysis of part of nuclear 28S rDNA shows that these asexuals do not form a monophyletic clade. Analysis of the mitochondrial COI region shows that intraspecific variation is extensive (up to 8.8%). Within B. kissophila, distinct clades are found, which are absent at the nuclear 28S rDNA level. Moreover, paraphyletic patterns are found at the mitochondrial DNA.


Asexuality is widespread in the genus Bryobia, signifying that some animal taxa do contain a high number of asexuals. We argue that asexuality originated multiple times within Bryobia. Wolbachia bacteria cause asexuality in at least two Bryobia species and may have infected different species independently. The high intraspecific clonal diversity and the patterns of paraphyly at the mitochondrial DNA in B. kissophila might be explained by a high mutation fixation rate and past hybridization events. Reproductive parasites like Wolbachia and Cardinium might influence these processes. We discuss the role these bacteria could play in the evolutionary success of asexual species.