Biological life cycle
A life cycle is a period involving all different generations of a species succeeding each other through means of reproduction, whether through asexual reproduction or sexual reproduction. For example, a complex life cycle of Fasciola hepatica, a parasitic flatworm, includes three different multicellular stages: 1) "adult" hermaphroditic; 2) sporocyst; 3) redia.
For plants and many algae, there are two multicellular stages, and the life cycle is referred to as alternation of generations. The term life history is often used, particularly for organisms such as the red algae (Rhodophyta) which have three multicellular stages (or more), rather than two.
Life cycles that include sexual reproduction involve alternating haploid (n) and diploid (2n) stages, i.e., a change of ploidy is involved. To return from a diploid stage to a haploid stage, meiosis must occur. In regard to changes of ploidy, there are 3 types of cycles:
- haplontic life cycle — the haploid stage is multicellular and the diploid stage is a single cell, meiosis is "zygotic".
- diplontic life cycle — the diploid stage is multicellular and haploid gametes are formed, meiosis is "gametic".
- haplodiplontic life cycle (also referred to as diplohaplontic, diplobiontic, or dibiontic life cycle) — multicellular diploid and haploid stages occur, meiosis is "sporic".
The cycles differ in when mitosis (growth) occurs. Zygotic meiosis and gametic meiosis have one mitotic stage: mitosis occurs during the n phase in zygotic meiosis and during the 2n phase in gametic meiosis. Therefore, zygotic and gametic meiosis are collectively termed haplobiontic (single mitotic phase, not to be confused with haplontic). Sporic meiosis, on the other hand, has mitosis in two stages, both the diploid and haploid stages, termed diplobiontic (not to be confused with diplontic).
Haplontic life cycle
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A zygotic meiosis is a meiosis of a zygote immediately after karyogamy, which is the fusion of two cell nuclei. This way, the organism ends its diploid phase and produces several haploid cells. These cells divide mitotically to form either larger, multicellular individuals, or more haploid cells. Two opposite types of gametes (e.g., male and female) from these individuals or cells fuse to become a zygote.
In the whole cycle, zygotes are the only diploid cell; mitosis occurs only in the haploid phase.
The individuals or cells as a result of mitosis are haplonts, hence this life cycle is also called haplontic life cycle. Haplonts are:
- Most fungi
- Some green algae, e.g. Chlamydomonas, Chara
- Some golden algae
- Many dinoflagellates
- Some apicomplexans, e.g. Plasmodium
- Some excavates, e.g. some parabasalids
- Some amoebozoans, e.g. Dictyostelium
Diplontic life cycle
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In gametic meiosis, instead of immediately dividing meiotically to produce haploid cells, the zygote divides mitotically to produce a multicellular diploid individual or a group of more unicellular diploid cells. Cells from the diploid individuals then undergo meiosis to produce haploid cells or gametes. Haploid cells may divide again (by mitosis) to form more haploid cells, as in many yeasts, but the haploid phase is not the predominant life cycle phase. In most diplonts, mitosis occurs only in the diploid phase, i.e. gametes usually form quickly and fuse to produce diploid zygotes.
In the whole cycle, gametes are usually the only haploid cells, and mitosis usually occurs only in the diploid phase.
The diploid multicellular individual is a diplont, hence a gametic meiosis is also called a diplontic life cycle. Diplonts are:
- Some fungi, e.g. brewer's yeast
- Some green algae (e.g., Cladophora glomerata)
- Some brown algae (the Fucales)
- Some xanthophytes, e.g. Vaucheria 
- Most diatoms 
- Some oomycetes, e.g. Saprolegnia, Plasmopara viticola
- Opalines 
- Ciliates 
- Some "heliozoans", e.g. Actinophrys, Actinosphaerium
- Some parabasalids 
Haplodiplontic life cycle
In sporic meiosis (also commonly known as intermediary meiosis), the zygote divides mitotically to produce a multicellular diploid sporophyte. The sporophyte creates spores via meiosis which also then divide mitotically producing haploid individuals called gametophytes. The gametophytes produce gametes via mitosis. In some plants the gametophyte is not only small-sized but also short-lived; in other plants and many algae, the gametophyte is the "dominant" stage of the life cycle.
- Land plants
- Some green algae, e.g. Ulva
- Red algae (which have two sporophyte generations)
- Brown algae (except the Fucales)
- Some rhizaria, e.g. many foraminiferans and Plasmodiophora
- Some fungi
Some red algae (such as Bonnemaisonia and Lemanea) and green algae (such as Prasiola) have vegetative meiosis, also called somatic meiosis, which is a rare phenomenon. Vegetative meiosis can occur in haplodiplontic and also in diplontic life cycles. The gametophytes remain attached to and part of the sporophyte. Vegetative (non-reproductive) diploid cells undergo meiosis, generating vegetative haploid cells. These undergo many mitosis, and produces gametes.
A different phenomenon, called vegetative diploidization, a type of apomixis, occurs in some brown algae (e.g., Elachista stellaris). Cells in a haploid part of the plant spontaneously duplicate their chromosomes to produce diploid tissue.
The primitive type of life cycle probably had haploid individuals with asexual reproduction. Bacteria and archaea exhibit a life cycle like this, and some eukaryotes apparently do too (e.g., Euglenozoa, Cryptophyta, Choanoflagellata, many Amoebozoa, some red algae, the imperfect fungi, some rotifers and many other groups). However, these eukaryotes probably are not primitively asexual, but have lost their sexual reproduction, or it just was not observed yet. Many eukaryotes (including animals and plants) exhibit asexual reproduction, which may be facultative or obligate in the life cycle, with sexual reproduction occurring more or less frequently.
- Eel life history
- Monocarpic plants bloom once and then die
- Parasexual cycle
- Parasitic life cycles
- Reproductive biology
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Life cycles.|
- Life Cycles: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist. John Tyler Bonner. Princeton University Press, Princeton (New Jersey).
- Vegetal life cycles (in spanish)
- Valero, M. (1992). Evolution of alternation of haploid and diploid phases in life cycles . Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 7 (1), 25-29.
- Mable, B. and Otto, S. (1998). The evolution of life cycles with haploid and diploid phase . BioEssays 20:453–462.