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Funct Ecol. 2007 Jun;21(3):455-464.

The speed of ecological speciation.

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  • 1Redpath Museum and Department of Biology, McGill University, 859 Sherbrooke St W., Montréal, Québec, H3A 2K6, Canada.


Adaptation can occur on ecological time-scales (contemporary evolution) and adaptive divergence can cause reproductive isolation (ecological speciation). From the intersection of these two premises follows the prediction that reproductive isolation can evolve on ecological time-scales. We explore this possibility in theory and in nature. Finding few relevant studies, we examine each in some detail.


Several models have demonstrated that ecological differences can drive the evolution of partial reproductive barriers in dozens to hundreds of generations. Barriers likely to evolve quickly include dispersal rate, habitat preference and selection against migrants/hybrids.


Adjacent populations adapting to different fertilizer treatments or to mine tailings can develop reproductive barriers within at least 100 generations. These barriers include differences in flowering time and selection against migrants/hybrids.


Populations on native and introduced host plants can manifest reproductive barriers in dozens to hundreds of generations. These barriers include local host preference and selection against migrants/hybrids.


Salmon adapting to divergent breeding environments can show restricted gene flow within at least 14 generations. Birds evolving different migratory routes can mate assortatively within at least 10-20 generations. Hybrid sculpins can become isolated from their ancestral species within at least 20-200 generations. Ecological speciation can commence within dozens of generations. How far it goes is an important question for future research.

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