The evolutionary origins and advantages of clonal reproduction relative to sexual reproduction have been discussed for several taxonomic groups. In particular, organisms with a sessile lifestyle are often exposed to spatial and temporal environmental fluctuations. Thus, clonal propagation may be advantageous in such fluctuating environments, for sessile species that can reproduce both sexually and clonally. Here we introduce the concept of niche to a lattice space that changes spatially and temporally, by incorporating the compatibility between the characteristics of a sessile clonal plant with its habitat into a spatially explicit individual-based model. We evaluate the impact of spatially and temporally heterogeneous environments on the evolution of reproductive strategies: the optimal balance between seed and clonal reproduction of a clonal plant. The spatial niche case with local habitats led to avoidance of specialization in reproductive strategy, whereas stable environments or intensive environmental change tended to result in specialization in either clonal or seed reproduction under neutral conditions. Furthermore, an increase in spatial niches made clonal reproduction advantageous, as a consequence of competition among several genets under disturbed conditions, because a ramet reached a favorable habitat through a rare long-distance dispersal event via seed production. Thus, the existence of spatial niches could explain the advantages of clonal propagation.
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