Background: Identifying traits that reproductively isolate species, and the selective forces underlying their divergence, is a central goal of evolutionary biology and speciation research. There is growing recognition that postcopulatory sexual selection, which can drive rapid diversification of interacting ejaculate and female reproductive tract traits that mediate sperm competition, may be an engine of speciation. Conspecific sperm precedence (CSP) is a taxonomically widespread form of reproductive isolation, but the selective causes and divergent traits responsible for CSP are poorly understood.
Results: To test the hypothesis that postcopulatory sexual selection can generate reproductive isolation, we expressed GFP or RFP in sperm heads of recently diverged sister species, Drosophila simulans and D. mauritiana, to enable detailed resolution of species-specific sperm precedence mechanisms. Between-species divergence in sperm competition traits and mechanisms prompted six a priori predictions regarding mechanisms of CSP and degree of cross asymmetry in reproductive isolation. We resolved four distinct mechanisms of CSP that were highly consistent with predictions. These comprise interactions between multiple sex-specific traits, including two independent mechanisms by which females exert sophisticated control over sperm fate to favor the conspecific male.
Conclusions: Our results confirm that reproductive isolation can quickly arise from diversifying (allopatric) postcopulatory sexual selection. This experimental approach to "speciation phenotypes" illustrates how knowledge of sperm precedence mechanisms can be used to predict the mechanisms and extent of reproductive isolation between populations and species.
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