Asexual lineages are thought to be subject to rapid extinction because they cannot generate recombinant offspring. Accordingly, extant asexual lineages are expected to be of recent derivation from sexual individuals. We examined this prediction by using mitochondrial DNA sequence data to estimate asexual lineage age in populations of a freshwater snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) native to New Zealand and characterized by varying frequency of sexual and asexual individuals. We found considerable variation in the amount of genetic divergence of asexual lineages from sexual relatives, pointing to a wide range of asexual lineage ages. Most asexual lineages had close genetic ties (∼0.1% sequence divergence) to haplotypes found in sexual representatives, indicating a recent origin from sexual progenitors. There were, however, two asexual clades that were quite genetically distinct (>1.2% sequence divergence) from sexual lineages and may have diverged from sexual progenitors more than 500,000 years ago. These two clades were found in lakes that had a significantly lower frequency of sexual individuals than lakes without the old clades, suggesting that the conditions that favor sex might select against ancient asexuality. Our results also emphasize the need for large sample sizes and spatially representative sampling when hypotheses for the age of asexual lineages are tested to adequately deal with potential biases in age estimates.
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Vol. 59 • No. 9