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Am Nat. 2004 Jun;163(6):914-23. Epub 2004 May 13.

What is speciation and how should we study it?

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5245, USA.


To understand speciation, we first need to know what species are. Yet debates over species concepts have seemed endless, with little obvious relevance to the study of speciation. Recently, there has been progress in resolving these debates, favoring a lineage-based, evolutionary species concept. This progress calls for reconsideration of the study of speciation. Traditional speciation research based on the biological species concept has led to great advances in understanding how nonallopatric speciation occurs and how species diverge and remain separate from each other. However, this research has neglected the question of how new species arise in the first place for the most common geographic mode (allopatric). A new and very different research program is needed to understand the ecological and evolutionary processes that split an ancestral species into new allopatric lineages. This research program will connect speciation to many other fundamental questions in evolutionary biology, ecology, biogeography, and conservation biology.

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