Sex is a hot topic in evolutionary biology. Most kinds of eukaryotic organisms are sexual; obligate asexuals, although present in all eukaryote groups, appear to be short-lived evolutionary dead-ends. Explaining this observation has been a central goal for evolutionary theory. One of the main ideas is that sex speeds up adaptation to changing environments over space or time. However, testing this idea has proved difficult, because most as equals have recent sexual ancestry, confounding their use as strictly asexual models. One group of animals that has survived and diversified apparently without sex or recombination is the bdelloid rotifers. ROTPOP will explore the ecological responses of bdelloid populations to changing environments and infer evolutionary patterns.
Taking advantage of recently developed molecular tools, emerging systematic databases, and the extensive field and taxonomic expertise of the applicant, it will compare the population genetics of several bdelloid species living in various habitats, from large water bodies, to streams, and to moss patches, to test several hypotheses on how bdelloids cope without the benefits of sex.
ROTPOP will use the ecological and phylogenetic results to address the following questions:
(1) Are the bdelloid specie s really asexual?
(2) Are bdelloids anciently asexual?
(3) As large population size is predicted to reduce the costs of asexuality for adaptation, do bdelloids have large populations?
(4) A generalist lifestyle might help them to cope with changing environments; thus, are bdelloids ecological specialists or generalists?
(5) Many recent asexuals deal with fluctuating environments through clones specialised to different conditions and surviving unfavourable periods through dormancy; thus, what is the pattern of genotype dynamics over time for bdelloids?
It will provide the first detailed study of bdelloid population biology, testing key ideas about the evolutionary causes and consequences of asexual reproduction.
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