On Monday, June 1, 2015, the journal Current Biology released a study reporting that smalltooth sawfish, an endangered species found in Southern Florida, has become the next species—and the first vertebrate—to reproduce without mating.
It is a process known as facultative parthenogenesis, and many sawfish species have been produced through this species-preserving method.
The smalltooth sawfish is also the first species to perform this process in the wild, as all other species were in captivity when observed.
During parthenogenesis, the egg of a female sawfish ingests a genetically similar cell which results in the production of an offspring that is capable of growing to full maturity.
However, the process is understood to be weaker than sexual reproduction, as it results in a reduction in genetic variation which often results in the death of the offspring.
Despite the potential failures involved with this process, Gregg Poulakis, co-author of this recent study, noted that the parthenogens that were observed were all in excellent health and of the standard size.
Andrew Fields of Stony Brook University and lead author of this study, states, “We were conducting routine DNA fingerprinting of the sawfish found in this area in order to see if relatives were often reproducing with relatives due to their small population size.”
Fields and his colleagues came to the conclusion that this process is the sawfish’ way of adapting to the harsh, limited conditions of its environment in order to preserve its species.
Because of human involvement, the smalltooth sawfish has become critically endangered.
Demian Chapman, a marine biologist aa Stony Brook University, believes that their endangerment has been caused by overfishing and destroying the sawfish’ habitat.
Although this is the first known occurrence of parthenogenesis in fish, the process itself is not uncommon: it has occurred with the Komodo dragon, sharks, birds such as chickens, snakes (like pit vipers and boa constrictors), and also turkey.