There are two methods of reproductions that are used by animals and plants to ensure that their species can survive. In the “standard” reproduction, two parents are involved in the process. The genetics of the parents are then combined so that an offspring is formed. In asexual reproduction, only one parent is required to produce an offspring.
The primary advantage of asexual reproduction is the fact that offspring can be successfully created without the need for a partnership. It occurs over a short period of time without the need to develop the genetics to form a gender. In return, the offspring produced will share the characteristic of their parent identically.
The disadvantage of asexual reproduction is that it limits the evolutionary process. The offspring that is created through this process is virtually identical to the parent, almost always belonging to the same species. Because there is limited evolutionary development, the poor qualities of the species are consistently passed down through each generation.
Here are some of the additional advantages and disadvantages of asexual reproduction.
What Are the Advantages of Asexual Reproduction?
1. The energy requirements for reproduction are minimal.
Because only one parent is required for this reproductive process, the energy requirements throughout the entire cycle of reproduction are reduced. There isn’t a need for sex. This means energy doesn’t need to be expended in the fusing of genetics. This makes it easier for a species to pass information to the next generation.
2. It can occur in various environments.
Asexual organisms are highly adaptive. They can take on different forms or adapt to changing environments and still be able to successfully reproduce. This flexibility allows the organism to access some evolutionary movement despite having only one parent is involved in the reproduction process. If the organism can survive within the environment where it established itself, then it can thrive there, assuming that conditions remain similar over time.
3. It allows for species survival.
Asexual reproduction is essentially a cloning process, so there isn’t the need for outside intervention to reproduce. Instead of requiring a mate or pollination, the parent can simply clone itself and split an offspring off from the reproductive cycle. Because diversity can be limited in a positive way, an organism can find a supportive habitat and then reproduce in high numbers without a threat of passing on randomized genetic materials.
4. Positive genetic influences are guaranteed to be passed to the next generation.
Because the offspring created through the process of asexual reproduction is essentially a duplicate of the parent, all the positive traits of the species are virtually guaranteed to be passed along. This means the key traits of an asexual organism can help it to access the small windows of evolutionary progress that are available to it.
5. Multiple forms of asexual reproduction are available.
There are three different types of asexual reproduction that may occur. The first, called “budding,” is what occurs when growth comes from the parent. Potatoes are one of the most common examples of this type of reproduction. The second, called “propagation,” occurs when a plant produces “runners” to grow more plants. Strawberries are a good example of this process. The third, called fragmentation, allows for a portion of one organism to grow into a full parent over time. Begonias, African Violets, and Chinese evergreens can all grow from cuttings. Spores and fission are also possible reproductive methods.
6. Only one organism is required to establish a colony.
For those who reproduce sexually, a partnership must be established before a colony can be established. In asexual reproduction, this is not necessary. Just one parent can produce daughter cells and establish a colony of virtually unlimited size over time. Once a colony is established, it becomes possible for this organism to out-compete others within that environment for the resources that are available.
7. It provides a defensive mechanism.
Smaller organisms tend to be at the mercy of larger organisms because of the cycle of nature. Asexual reproduction allows smaller organisms to continue to reproduce, especially when there is the possibility of being stationary throughout their entire life cycle. Numerous offspring can be produced and offspring can be produced more often because of the lower energy requirements which are involved in the process.
8. In plant organisms, asexual reproduction eliminates the need for seeds.
Certain crops are used by modern society in high levels. Sugarcane and jasmine are two common examples. Thanks to asexual reproduction, it becomes possible to propagate large crops of these needed items even if they do not grow from seeds or possess them. Plants that are grown through the asexual reproduction process also tend to bear their fruit earlier in the growing season than those which require pollination or sexual reproduction.
9. Crop losses can be balanced with this reproduction method.
Any yield will experience some level of loss over the course of a growing season. Thanks to asexual reproduction, it becomes possible to rapidly regenerate a current generation of crops so that yields can be maximized. Even organisms which receive an injury can be rehabilitated through the propagation processes which are involved in this reproduction cycle.
10. Maturity is rapid.
For plants that utilize the asexual reproductive cycle, maturity can happen in as few as 6 weeks. For plants that rely on sexual reproduction, the maturity process for a crop yield can be several months. This shortened growing time makes it possible for multiple yields in some environments.
What Are the Disadvantages of Asexual Reproduction?
1. Negative mutations linger longer in asexual organisms.
Because the offspring of an asexual organism is essentially a clone of the parent, any negative mutations that are within the genetics of the organism will be passed down to the offspring. This increases the risks of an asexual species to eventually become extinct as most mutations tend to be more negative than positive, especially with the limited evolution that is available to such a species.
2. Diversity is limited.
Because only one parent is involved in reproduction with an asexual organism, the diversity within the species is extremely limited. This makes a species more susceptible to various diseases or infections because there is a lack of an ability to adapt or fight off such a problem. Without outside intervention, many asexual organisms would either need to adapt over time to increase genetic diversity or their population numbers would be extremely limited.
3. Population numbers can be difficult to control.
Because the reproductive process is easier to complete, for many asexual organisms, it happens more often than with sexual reproduction. This means population numbers for a species can increase at a dramatic rate, especially when there are favorable environmental conditions which support the reproductive cycle. Add in the fact that there is no competition for breeding and the possibility of the population of an organism doubling with every reproductive cycle becomes a possibility.
4. There can be an inability to adapt.
Asexual organisms are not always able to adapt to a changing environment or habitat. This is especially true if there is some sort of predator or disease which can develop the ability to seek and destroy the asexual organism. With its limited evolutionary access, any evolution that targets the organism could destroy the entire species in a short amount of time.
5. Overcrowding can be a real issue.
One parent can produce a high number of offspring in a limited period. As each generation progresses to the next, more organisms than what the environment can support may become a possibility. Overcrowding creates a lack of resources that could stop the organism from future growth. Population levels will stabilize to support a maximum number of organisms, but that comes at the expense of starvation.
6. Reproduction can create competition.
Some forms of asexual reproduction create offspring that are in close relation to one another. Because they are so close together, a competition for resources begins. Although food is an important resource, there are also space considerations in play for some species as well.
7. Once change can eliminate an entire species.
Once an asexual organism has established a colony, it isn’t going to move. If the conditions of the environment around the colony were to change, the entire species could be eliminated. There are limited movement capabilities within most asexual species, which means the survival of many species are not fully in their own control.
8. Pest resistance is minimal with asexual reproduction.
Plants that are grown through an asexual reproductive cycle tend to be less likely to resist pests that may be within the environment. Although injury or loss can be quickly replaced because of the speed and low energy requirements of this type of reproduction, the ongoing threat to species health can reduce crop yields, create poor quality crops, or produce additional health issues that can affect other species – or even people.
9. Asexual organisms typically have lower lifespans.
The crops which are created through an asexual reproductive cycle have a lifespan that is usually shorter than plants that propagate through a regular sexual process. The difference is like comparing plants that are classified as “annuals” and those that are classified as “perennials.” A good yield can be obtained from asexual plants, like a crop of potatoes, but there is a need to continually establish a new colony after a harvest. For other crops, like an orchard, this is not the case.
10. It is an expensive process.
Although there are lower energy costs with asexual reproduction, there are added expenses for those who cultivate crops in such a way. Special skills are required to cultivate successfully as well, which requires a time investment. For some, these costs do not make sense as an investment since new varieties of crops cannot be developed within this reproductive cycle.
11. A species can become habitat-reliant.
Some asexual organisms are so dependent on their environment to propagate that they may not be able to do so in any other environment. Some organisms do have the ability to be flexible and can establish colonies in multiple habitats, but this isn’t always the case. Mushrooms, which tend to reproduce through spores, are in virtually every habitat, but require lots of water and moderate temperatures to survive.
12. There are natural limitations to this reproductive cycle.
For a plant that reproduces sexually, there may be hundreds or thousands of seeds that are produced each year. The average sunflower, for example, can contain a seed head which holds as many as 2,000 seeds. That’s the potential for up to 2,000 new plants in the next growing season. In comparison, an asexual plant may only produce a handful of viable cuttings that can be turned into new plants over the next growing season. There may be more speed and maturity, but in terms of sheer quantity, sometimes the asexual plants get left behind.
The advantages and disadvantages of asexual reproduction show us that this common process allows for life to continue in environments or habitats that may be somewhat difficult for other forms of reproduction. It has certain features that can place limits on the species that reproduce in such a way, but if it can be managed properly, will allow a species to thrive as it works to survive.