Speciation, that is, the evolution of reproductive barriers eventually leading to complete isolation, is a crucial process generating biodiversity. Recent work has contributed much to our understanding of how reproductive barriers begin to evolve, and how they are maintained in the face of gene flow. However, little is known about the transition from partial to strong reproductive isolation (RI) and the completion of speciation. We argue that the evolution of strong RI is likely to involve different processes, or new interactions among processes, compared with the evolution of the first reproductive barriers. Transition to strong RI may be brought about by changing external conditions, for example, following secondary contact. However, the increasing levels of RI themselves create opportunities for new barriers to evolve and, and interaction or coupling among barriers. These changing processes may depend on genomic architecture and leave detectable signals in the genome. We outline outstanding questions and suggest more theoretical and empirical work, considering both patterns and processes associated with strong RI, is needed to understand how speciation is completed. This article is part of the theme issue 'Towards the completion of speciation: the evolution of reproductive isolation beyond the first barriers'.
Keywords: barriers to gene flow; feedback between barriers; speciation; speciation continuum; strong reproductive isolation.