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Am Nat. 2010 Mar;175(3):316-34. doi: 10.1086/650369.

Speciation has a spatial scale that depends on levels of gene flow.

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  • 1Division of Biology and Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berkshire, UK.


Area is generally assumed to affect speciation rates, but work on the spatial context of speciation has focused mostly on patterns of range overlap between emerging species rather than on questions of geographical scale. A variety of geographical theories of speciation predict that the probability of speciation occurring within a given region should (1) increase with the size of the region and (2) increase as the spatial extent of intraspecific gene flow becomes smaller. Using a survey of speciation events on isolated oceanic islands for a broad range of taxa, we find evidence for both predictions. The probability of in situ speciation scales with island area in bats, carnivorous mammals, birds, flowering plants, lizards, butterflies and moths, and snails. Ferns are an exception to these findings, but they exhibit high frequencies of polyploid and hybrid speciation, which are expected to be scale independent. Furthermore, the minimum island size for speciation correlates across groups with the strength of intraspecific gene flow, as is estimated from a meta-analysis of published population genetic studies. These results indicate a general geographical model of speciation rates that are dependent on both area and gene flow. The spatial scale of population divergence is an important but neglected determinant of broad-scale diversity patterns.

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