By Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com | April 18, 2015
Despite evolutionary adaptations that have allowed female members of some fish, reptile, and amphibian species to reproduce by cloning themselves, a new study published online recently in The Science of Nature shows that males still play an important role in reproduction.
Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) discovered that even in species capable of perpetuate offspring through cloning, fertilization is still very much required to ensure the survival of the maximum number of healthy offspring, thus indicating that males have not become obsolete just yet.
The mystery of the Little Fire Ant
In harsh environments, some species are able to increase their numbers more quickly when females don’t have to take the time to find a suitable mate. Experts believe that this ability may have first arisen independently in creatures either due to conflict between the species or to keep the species alive when worthy males are difficult to find.
Many of these species are now almost exclusively female, and the researchers from the OIST Ecology and Evolution Unit set out to analyze how the transition from sexual reproduction to asexual, clonal reproduction evolved by studying a species known as the Little Fire Ant.
The Little Fire Ant is a creature in which some populations reproduce sexually and others do so clonally, yet there are still male members in both types of populations. As in other types of ants, male Little Fire Ants fertilize queens to produce a worker class that is sterile and accepts genetic contributions from both parents.
The offspring of the reproductive classes differ, however. As the study authors explain, fertile males hatch with no genetic contribution from the queen laying the egg, while new queens hatch without any genetic contributions from the father. What remained unclear was why male Little Fire Ants continued to exist when queens can clonally produce both workers and queens.
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