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Evolution of Complex Asexual Reproductive Strategies in Jellyfish

ORCIDs: Schnedler-Meyer,

Many living organisms in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems rely on multiple reproductive strategies to reduce the risk of extinction in variable environments. Examples are provided by the polyp stage of several bloom-forming jellyfish species, which can reproduce asexually using different budding strategies. These strategies broadly fall into three categories: (1) fast localized reproduction, (2) dormant cysts, or (3) motile and dispersing buds. Similar functional strategies are also present in other groups of species. However, mechanisms leading to the evolution of this rich reproductive diversity are yet to be clarified. Here we model how risk of local population extinction and differential fitness of alternative modes of asexual reproduction could drive the evolution of multiple reproductive modes as seen in jellyfish polyps. Depending on environmental parameters, we find that evolution leads to a unique evolutionarily stable strategy, wherein multiple reproductive strategies generally coexist. As the extinction risk increases, this strategy shifts from a pure budding mode to a dual strategy and finally to one characterized by allocation into all three modes. We identify relative fitness-dependent thresholds in extinction risk where these transitions can occur and discuss our predictions in light of observations on polyp reproduction in laboratory and natural systems.