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Is it correct, as is often assumed, that the clonal form of inheritance in parthenogenetic lizards results in less variability than occurs with genetic recombination in their sexually reproducing (gonochoristic) relatives? We tested this hypothesis by comparing morphological variability in samples of parthenogenetic Aspidoscelis tesselata and several gonochoristic species of whiptail lizards. To control for environmental factors that might differentially affect embryonic development of morphological characters, we compared samples obtained from the same or geographically adjacent localities. In addition, we compared apparently “uniclonal” and multiclonal samples from each of two color-pattern classes (C and E) of A. tesselata.
For univariate meristic characters, parthenogenetic A. tesselata matched the variability of a sympatric gonochoristic species in 11 of 20 comparisons, had lower variability in six comparisons, and was more variable in three. For multivariate characters derived from principal components analyses (PCA), the relative meristic variability of samples of A. tesselata could not be predicted by its reproductive mode, color-pattern class, apparent “uniclonal” or multiclonal state, or geographic location.
In addition, we compared A. tesselata, A. sexlineata, A. marmorata, and A. gularis septemvittata in a single PCA, with the latter two species representing the two ancestral taxa from which A. tesselata was derived through hybridization. Once again, relative variability of A. tesselata was not always predictable based on its reproductive mode. It had greater variability than A. sexlineata, equivalent variability with A. gularis septemvittata, and less variability than A. marmorata.