Mathematical consequences of the genealogical species concept

Evolution. 2002 Aug;56(8):1557-65. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2002.tb01467.x.


A genealogical species is defined as a basal group of organisms whose members are all more closely related to each other than they are to any organisms outside the group ("exclusivity"), and which contains no exclusive group within it. In practice, a pair of species is so defined when phylogenies of alleles from a sample of loci shows them to be reciprocally monophyletic at all or some specified fraction of the loci. We investigate the length of time it takes to attain this status when an ancestral population divides into two descendant populations of equal size with no gene exchange, and when genetic drift and mutation are the only evolutionary forces operating. The number of loci used has a substantial effect on the probability of observing reciprocal monophyly at different times after population separation, with very long times needed to observe complete reciprocal monophyly for a large number of loci. In contrast, the number of alleles sampled per locus has a relatively small effect on the probability of reciprocal monophyly. Because a single mitochondrial or chloroplast locus becomes reciprocally monophyletic much faster than does a single nuclear locus, it is not advisable to use mitochondrial and chloroplast DNA to recognize genealogical species for long periods after population divergence. Using a weaker criterion of assigning genealogical species status when more than 50% of sampled nuclear loci show reciprocal monophyly, genealogical species status depends much less on the number of sampled loci, and is attained at roughly 4-7 N generations after populations are isolated, where N is the historically effective population size of each descendant. If genealogical species status is defined as more than 95% of sampled nuclear loci showing reciprocal monophyly, this status is attained after roughly 9-12 N generations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Biological Evolution
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Species Specificity