The ghost sex-life of the paedogenetic beetle Micromalthus debilis

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  • M. Alejandra Perotti
    University of Reading
  • Daniel K. Young
    University of Wisconsin
  • Henk Braig
Genetic and sexual systems can be evolutionarily dynamic within and among clades. However, identifying the processes responsible for switches between, for instance, sexual and asexual reproduction, or cyclic and non-cyclic life histories remains challenging. When animals evolve parthenogenetic reproduction, information about the sexual mating system becomes lost. Here we report an extraordinary case where we have been able to resurrect sexual adults in a species of beetle that reproduces by parthenogenetic paedogenesis, without the production of adults. Via heat treatment, we were able to artificially induce adult beetles of Micromalthus debilis in order to describe its pre-paedogenetic mating system. Adults showed a highly female biased sex ratio, out-breeding behaviour, and sex-role reversal. Paedogenetic larvae of Micromalthus are infected with the endosymbiotic bacteria Rickettsia and Wolbachia. Clear signs of vestigialization in adults are concurrent with the loss of adults. Our data suggest an ancient female sex ratio bias that predates the loss of adults, perhaps associated with endosymbionts. We propose a model for the transition from a haplodiploid cyclical parthenogenetic life history to parthenogenetic paedogenesis. Paedogenetic development induces a new mechanism of sex ratio bias in midges, wasps and beetles.
Original languageEnglish
Article number27364
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date7 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

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