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Mol Ecol. 2010 May;19(10):2089-105. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04611.x. Epub 2010 Mar 24.

Sympatric speciation in a genus of marine reef fishes.

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  • 1Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA 94132, USA.


Sympatric speciation has been contentious since its inception, yet is increasingly recognized as important based on accumulating theoretical and empirical support. Here, we present a compelling case of sympatric speciation in a taxon of marine reef fishes using a comparative and mechanistic approach. Hexagrammos otakii and H. agrammus occur in sympatry throughout their ranges. Molecular sequence data from six loci, with complete sampling of the genus, support monophyly of these sister species. Although hybridization occurs frequently with an allopatric congener in an area of slight distributional overlap, we found no F(1) hybrids between the focal sympatric taxa throughout their coextensive ranges. We present genetic evidence for complete reproductive isolation based on SNP analysis of 382 individuals indicating fixed polymorphisms, with no shared haplotypes or genotypes, between sympatric species. To address questions of speciation, we take a mechanistic approach and directly compare aspects of reproductive isolation between allopatric and sympatric taxa both in nature and in the laboratory. We conclude that the buildup of reproductive isolation is strikingly different in sympatric vs. allopatric taxa, consistent with theoretical predictions. Lab reared hybrids from allopatric species crosses exhibit severe fitness effects in the F(1) or backcross generation. No intrinsic fitness effects are observed in F(1) hybrids from sympatric species pairs, however these treatments exhibited reduced fertilization success and complete pre-mating isolation is implied in nature because F(1) hybrid adults do not occur. Our study addresses limitations of previous studies and supports new criteria for inferring sympatric speciation.

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