Evolutionary innovation in behavior and speciation: opportunities for behavioral neuroethology

Brain Behav Evol. 1990;36(2-3):141-53. doi: 10.1159/000115303.


Populations of animals differentiate by speciation. How speciation takes place, for long a puzzle for evolutionary biologists, should be regarded as a research opportunity for neuroethologists and comparative behaviorists. It is now clear that behavior may play an important part in the process of speciation. The existence of sexually dimorphic anatomy and behavior in many animals has provided a rich subject for investigation by comparative neurobiologists and behaviorists, who emphasize analysis of proximate mechanisms that generate dimorphism in phenotype. However, sexual dimorphisms also figure prominently in the theory of sexual selection. Sexual selection is viewed as a primary behavioral mechanism in the process of speciation. Some examples of 'explosive' speciation are presented, and the putative role that sexual selection plays in these cases is reviewed. A consideration of any evolutionary selective process must include genetics, and I will briefly summarize studies that indicate that even complex behavioral systems such as sexual selection, which sociobiologists refer to as a 'strategy', can have a relatively simple genetic basis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Birds / genetics*
  • Birds / physiology
  • Drosophila / genetics*
  • Drosophila / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Perches / genetics*
  • Perches / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Species Specificity*