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Q Rev Biol. 2008 Sep;83(3):257-82.

Reproductive interference between animal species.

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  • 1University of Osnabrück, Department of Biology/Chemistry, Division of Ecology, D-49076 Osnabrück, Germany. JULIA.GROENING@GMX.DE


Although sexual interactions between species (reproductive interference) have been reported from a wide range of animal taxa, their potential for determining species coexistence is often disregarded. Here, we review evidence from laboratory and field studies illustrating that heterospecific sexual interactions are frequently associated with fitness loss and can have severe ecological and evolutionary consequences. We define reproductive interference as any kind of interspecific interaction during the process of mate acquisition that adversely affects the fitness of at least one of the species involved and that is caused by incomplete species recognition. We distinguish seven types of reproductive interference: signal jamming, heterospecific rivalry, misdirected courtship, heterospecific mating attempts, erroneous female choice, heterospecific mating, and hybridization. We then discuss the sex-specific costs of these types and highlight two typical features of reproductive interference: density-dependence and asymmetry. Similar to competition, reproductive interference can lead to displacement of one species (sexual exclusion), spatial, temporal, or habitat segregation, changes in life history parameters, and reproductive character displacement. In many cases, patterns of coexistence might be shaped by reproductive interference rather than by resource competition, as the presence of a few heterospecifics might substantially decrease reproductive success. Therefore, interspecific sexual interactions should receive more attention in ecological research. Reproductive interference has mainly been discussed in the context of invasive species or hybrid zones, whereas its influence on naturally-occurring sympatric species pairs has rarely been addressed. To improve our knowledge of the ecological significance of reproductive interference, findings from laboratory experiments should be validated in the field. Future studies should also focus on ecological mechanisms, such as temporal spatial, or habitat partitioning, that might enable sexually interacting species to coexist. Reproductive interference also has implications for the management of endangered species, which can be threatened by sexual interactions with invasive or common species. Studies of reproductive interference might even provide new insights for biological pest control.

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