The biology of speciation

Evolution. 2010 Feb 1;64(2):295-315. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00877.x. Epub 2009 Nov 5.


Since Darwin published the "Origin," great progress has been made in our understanding of speciation mechanisms. The early investigations by Mayr and Dobzhansky linked Darwin's view of speciation by adaptive divergence to the evolution of reproductive isolation, and thus provided a framework for studying the origin of species. However, major controversies and questions remain, including: When is speciation nonecological? Under what conditions does geographic isolation constitute a reproductive isolating barrier? and How do we estimate the "importance" of different isolating barriers? Here, we address these questions, providing historical background and offering some new perspectives. A topic of great recent interest is the role of ecology in speciation. "Ecological speciation" is defined as the case in which divergent selection leads to reproductive isolation, with speciation under uniform selection, polyploid speciation, and speciation by genetic drift defined as "nonecological." We review these proposed cases of nonecological speciation and conclude that speciation by uniform selection and polyploidy normally involve ecological processes. Furthermore, because selection can impart reproductive isolation both directly through traits under selection and indirectly through pleiotropy and linkage, it is much more effective in producing isolation than genetic drift. We thus argue that natural selection is a ubiquitous part of speciation, and given the many ways in which stochastic and deterministic factors may interact during divergence, we question whether the ecological speciation concept is useful. We also suggest that geographic isolation caused by adaptation to different habitats plays a major, and largely neglected, role in speciation. We thus provide a framework for incorporating geographic isolation into the biological species concept (BSC) by separating ecological from historical processes that govern species distributions, allowing for an estimate of geographic isolation based upon genetic differences between taxa. Finally, we suggest that the individual and relative contributions of all potential barriers be estimated for species pairs that have recently achieved species status under the criteria of the BSC. Only in this way will it be possible to distinguish those barriers that have actually contributed to speciation from those that have accumulated after speciation is complete. We conclude that ecological adaptation is the major driver of reproductive isolation, and that the term "biology of speciation," as proposed by Mayr, remains an accurate and useful characterization of the diversity of speciation mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecology
  • Mutation
  • Species Specificity