Reproduction is the biological process by which new individual organisms are produced. Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life; each individual organism exists as the result of reproduction. The known methods of reproduction are broadly grouped into two main types: sexual and asexual.

 

In asexual reproduction, an individual can reproduce without involvement with another individual of that species. The division of a bacterial cell into two daughter cells is an example of asexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction is not, however, limited to single-celled organisms. Most plants have the ability to reproduce asexually.

 

Sexual Reproduction

Sexual reproduction requires the involvement of two individuals, typically one of each sex. Normal human reproduction is a common example of sexual reproduction.

 

Sexual reproduction is a biological process by which organisms create descendants that have a combination of genetic material contributed from two (usually) different members of the species. Each of two parent organisms contributes half of the offspring's genetic makeup by creating haploid gametes. Most organisms form two different types of gametes. In these anisogamous species, the two sexes are referred to as male (producing sperm or microspores) and female (producing ova or megaspores). In isogamous species the gametes are similar or identical in form, but may have separable properties and then may be given other different names. For example, in the green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, there are so-called "plus" and "minus" gametes. A few types of organisms, such as ciliates, have more than two kinds of gametes. Most animals (including humans) and plants reproduce sexually. Sexually reproducing organisms have two sets of genes for every trait (called alleles). Offspring inherit one allele for each trait from each parent, thereby ensuring that offspring have a combination of the parents' genes. Having two copies of every gene, only one of which is expressed, allows deleterious alleles to be masked, an advantage believed to have led to the evolutionary development of diploidy (Otto and Goldstein).

 

Reproductive Strategies

There is a wide range of reproductive strategies employed by different species. Some animals, such as the human and Northern Gannet, do not reach sexual maturity for many years after birth and even then produce few offspring. Others reproduce quickly; but, under normal circumstances, most offspring do not survive to adulthood. For example, a rabbit (mature after 8 months) can produce 10–30 offspring per year, and a fruit fly (mature after 10–14 days) can produce up to 900 offspring per year. These two main strategies are known as K-selection (few offspring) and r-selection (many offspring). Which strategy is favored by evolution depends on a variety of circumstances. Animals with few offspring can devote more resources to the nurturing and protection of each individual offspring, thus reducing the need for many offspring. On the other hand, animals with many offspring may devote fewer resources to each individual offspring; for these types of animals it is common for many offspring to die soon after birth, but normally enough individuals survive to maintain the population.

 

George C. Williams - Lottery Principle

Sexual reproduction has many drawbacks, as it requires far more energy than asexual reproduction, and there is some argument about why so many species use it. George C. Williams used lottery tickets as an analogy in one explanation for the widespread use of sexual reproduction. He argued that asexual reproduction, which produces little or no genetic variety in offspring, was like buying many tickets that all have the same number, limiting the chance of "winning" – that is, surviving. Sexual reproduction, he argued, was like purchasing fewer tickets but with a greater variety of numbers and therefore a greater chance of success.

The point of this analogy is that since asexual reproduction does not produce genetic variations, there is little ability to quickly adapt to a changing environment. The lottery principle is less accepted these days because of evidence that asexual reproduction is more prevalent in unstable environments, the opposite of what it predicts.