On the scent of speciation: the chemosensory system and its role in premating isolation

Heredity (Edinb). 2009 Jan;102(1):77-97. doi: 10.1038/hdy.2008.55. Epub 2008 Aug 6.


Chemosensory speciation is characterized by the evolution of barriers to genetic exchange that involve chemosensory systems and chemical signals. Here, we review some representative studies documenting chemosensory speciation in an attempt to evaluate the importance and the different aspects of the process in nature and to gain insights into the genetic basis and the evolutionary mechanisms of chemosensory trait divergence. Although most studies of chemosensory speciation concern sexual isolation mediated by pheromone divergence, especially in Drosophila and moth species, other chemically based behaviours (habitat choice, pollinator attraction) can also play an important role in speciation and are likely to do so in a wide range of invertebrate and vertebrate species. Adaptive divergence of chemosensory traits in response to factors such as pollinators, hosts and conspecifics commonly drives the evolution of chemical prezygotic barriers. Although the genetic basis of chemosensory speciation remains largely unknown, genomic approaches to chemosensory gene families and to enzymes involved in biosynthetic pathways of signal compounds now provide new opportunities to dissect the genetic basis of these complex traits and of their divergence among taxa.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Genetic Speciation*
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pollination
  • Reproduction