Two theories for the maintenance of sexual reproduction, the Red Queen hypothesis and mutation accumulation, suggest that the dispersal rates of sexuals and asexuals may determine the elimination or persistence of asexuals. Under higher dispersal rates of asexuals, asexuals may temporarily escape virulent parasites and reduce the effects of deleterious mutations. In the present study, I examine the population structure, parasite loads, and juvenile survivorship of Campeloma limum sexuals and autodiploid parthenogens from the southeastern U.S. Atlantic coastal plain. Using mtDNA sequence variation, it is shown that parthenogenetic haplotypes with limited sequence divergence are geographically widespread throughout this region and there is no significant population differentiation over a broad geographical scale. Sexual C. limum populations show significant mtDNA differentiation among and within river drainages and there is significant isolation by distance. These patterns are consistent with a recent origin and range expansion of parthenogens. Prevalence of infection by digenetic trematodes is significantly higher in autodiploid parthenogens, and the variance of prevalence is also higher in autodiploid parthenogens. I argue that the latter pattern indicates that unparasitized parthenogens have temporarily escaped these virulent parasites, but recolonization of these populations by trematodes results in high infection levels (> 40%), possibly due to reduced variation in resistance genes. I also examined whether the survivorship of juvenile sexuals and parthenogens varied under different stress levels. Sexual juveniles had twofold higher survivorship in all environments. Compared to polyploid parthenogens, autodiploid parthenogens may be less buffered against the effects of deleterious recessive alleles. I propose that the combined effects of higher parasitism and reduced juvenile survivorship of these autodiploid parthenogens accounts for the spatial distribution of sexual and parthenogenetic C. limum in the Atlantic coastal plain. Parthenogens may persist by higher dispersal rates into marginal habitats where there is a temporary escape from digenetic trematodes and competition with sexuals.
Corresponding Editor: R. Burton