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Theor Popul Biol. 2005 May;67(3):189-202.

Speciation through the learning of habitat features.

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  • 1Section Theoretical Biology, Institute of Biology, Leiden University, Kaiserstraat 63, 2311 GP Leiden, The Netherlands.


Learning of environmental features can influence both mating behaviour and the location where young are produced. This may lead to speciation in three steps: (i) colonization of a new habitat, (ii) genetic divergence of the two groups by adaptation to the habitats, and (iii) a decrease of genetic mixing between the lineages (similar to reinforcement). In a previous paper we showed that steps (i) and (ii) occur readily for a wide range of fixed mating and habitat preferences. Here, we study whether this can ultimately lead to speciation through selective changes in these preferences. We show that this indeed occurs, and, furthermore, it is very general: for a large class of models there is selection toward producing young more frequently in the natal habitat. Once habitat preference is strong, there is selection toward stronger assortative mating. Even when steps (i) and (ii) initially fail, genetic divergence may succeed at a later evolutionary stage, after which a decrease of genetic mixing completes speciation. Our results show that speciation by the learning of habitat features is an extremely effective mechanism.

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