Heritable genetic variation and potential for adaptive evolution in asexual aphids (Aphidoidea)

Alex C.C. Wilson, Paul Sunnucks, Dinah F. Hales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Aphid life cycles can encompass cyclical parthenogenesis, obligate parthenogenesis, obligate parthenogenesis with male production and an intermediate 'bet-hedging' strategy where an aphid genotype will over-winter by continuing to reproduce by parthenogenesis and by investment in sexually produced eggs. In this paper, we focus on aphid lineages that reproduce entirely parthenogenetically (asexual aphids), in contrast to those that have any sexual forms in the annual cycle. Using modern molecular techniques, aphid biologists have made many empirical observations showing that asexual lineages are widespread both geographically and temporally. Indeed, we are collectively beginning to gather data on the evolution and persistence of these lineages through time. Here we review aphid karyology and parthenogenesis, both essential for interpretation of the molecular and ecological evolution of aphid asexual lineages. We describe the growing list of studies that have identified aphid genotypes that are both temporally and geographically widespread. We then collate examples of molecular and chromosomal evolution in asexual aphids and review the literature pertaining to phenotypic evolution and ecological diversification of asexual aphid lineages. In addition, we briefly discuss the potential of bacterial endosymbionts and epigenetic effects to influence the evolution of asexual aphid lineages. Lastly we provide a list of aphid taxa believed to be obligately asexual. This will be a useful resource for those seeking parthenogenetic animals as study systems. In conclusion, we present guidelines for the use of the term clone in aphid biology and stress the need for well-designed and well-executed studies examining the potential of asexual aphid lineages for adaptive evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-135
Number of pages21
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Apomict
  • Clonal selection
  • Clone
  • Evolvability
  • Holocentric
  • Microsatellite
  • Mutation
  • Parthenogenesis
  • Phenotype
  • Symbiont

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Heritable genetic variation and potential for adaptive evolution in asexual aphids (Aphidoidea)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this