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Evolution. 2004 Feb;58(2):222-37.

Sympatric speciation by sexual selection alone is unlikely.

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Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


According to Darwin, sympatric speciation is driven by disruptive, frequency-dependent natural selection caused by competition for diverse resources. Recently, several authors have argued that disruptive sexual selection can also cause sympatric speciation. Here, we use hypergeometric phenotypic and individual-based genotypic models to explore sympatric speciation by sexual selection under a broad range of conditions. If variabilities of preference and display traits are each caused by more than one or two polymorphic loci, sympatric speciation requires rather strong sexual selection when females exert preferences for extreme male phenotypes. Under this kind of mate choice, speciation can occur only if initial distributions of preference and display are close to symmetric. Otherwise, the population rapidly loses variability. Thus, unless allele replacements at very few loci are enough for reproductive isolation, female preferences for extreme male displays are unlikely to drive sympatric speciation. By contrast, similarity-based female preferences that do not cause sexual selection are less destabilizing to the maintenance of genetic variability and may result in sympatric speciation across a broader range of initial conditions. Certain groups of African cichlids have served as the exclusive motivation for the hypothesis of sympatric speciation by sexual selection. Mate choice in these fishes appears to be driven by female preferences for extreme male phenotypes rather than similarity-based preferences, and the evolution of premating reproductive isolation commonly involves at least several genes. Therefore, differences in female preferences and male display in cichlids and other species of sympatric origin are more likely to have evolved as isolating mechanisms under disruptive natural selection.

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