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Evolution. 2007 Sep;61(9):2056-74.

Ecological speciation in Gambusia fishes.

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Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.


Although theory indicates that natural selection can facilitate speciation as a by-product, demonstrating ongoing speciation via this by-product mechanism in nature has proven difficult. We examined morphological, molecular, and behavioral data to investigate ecology's role in incipient speciation for a post-Pleistocene radiation of Bahamas mosquitofish (Gambusia hubbsi) inhabiting blue holes. We show that adaptation to divergent predator regimes is driving ecological speciation as a by-product. Divergence in body shape, coupled with assortative mating for body shape, produces reproductive isolation that is twice as strong between populations inhabiting different predator regimes than between populations that evolved in similar ecological environments. Gathering analogous data on reproductive isolation at the interspecific level in the genus, we find that this mechanism of speciation may have been historically prevalent in Gambusia. These results suggest that speciation in nature can result as a by-product of divergence in ecologically important traits, producing interspecific patterns that persist long after speciation events have completed.

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