Speciation despite gene flow when developmental pathways evolve

Evolution. 2002 Nov;56(11):2103-11. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2002.tb00136.x.


Evolutionary biologists assume that species formation requires a drastic reduction in gene exchange between populations, but the rate sufficient to prevent speciation is unknown. To study speciation, we use a new class of population genetic models that incorporate simple developmental genetic rules, likely present in all organisms, to construct the phenotype. When we allow replicate populations to evolve in parallel to a new, shared optimal phenotype, often their hybrids acquire poorly regulated phenotypes: Dobzhansky-Muller incompatibilities arise and postzygotic reproductive isolation evolves. Here we show that, although gene exchange does inhibit this process, it is the proportion of migrants exchanged (m) rather than the number of migrants (Nm) that is critical, and rates as high as 16 individuals exchanged per generation still permit the evolution of postzygotic isolation. Stronger directional selection counters the inhibitory effect of gene flow, increasing the speciation probability. We see similar results when populations in a standard two-locus, two-allele Dobzhansky-Muller model are subject to simultaneous directional selection and gene flow. However, in developmental pathway models with more than two loci, gene flow is more able to impede speciation. Genetic incompatibilities arise as frequent by-products of adaptive evolution of traits determined by regulatory pathways, something that does not occur when phenotypes are modeled using the standard, additive genetic framework. Development therefore not only constrains the microevolutionary process, it also facilitates the interactions among genes and gene products that make speciation more likely-even in the face of strong gene flow.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Phenotype
  • Reproduction / genetics