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Evolution. 2010 May;64(5):1301-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00897.x. Epub 2009 Nov 17.

Sex chromosome linkage of mate preference and color signal maintains assortative mating between interbreeding finch morphs.

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1
Department of Brain, Behaviour and Evolution, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia. sarah.pryke@mq.edu.au

Abstract

Assortative mating is a key aspect in the speciation process because it is important for both initial divergence and maintenance of distinct species. However, it remains a challenge to explain how assortative mating evolves when diverging populations are undergoing gene flow (e.g., during hybridization). Here I experimentally test how assortative mating is maintained with frequent gene flow between diverged head-color morphs of the Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae). Contrary to the predominant view on the development of sexual preferences in birds, cross-fostered offspring did not imprint on the phenotype of their conspecific (red or black morphs) or heterospecific (Bengalese finch) foster parents. Instead, the mating preferences of F(1) and F(2) intermorph-hybrids are consistent with inheritance on the Z chromosomes, which are also the location for genes controlling color expression and the genes causing low fitness of intermorph-hybrids. Genetic associations between color signal and preference loci on the sex chromosomes may prevent recombination from breaking down these associations when the morphs interbreed, helping to maintain assortative mating in the face of gene flow. Although sex linkage of reproductively isolating traits is theoretically expected to promote speciation, social and ecological constraints may enforce frequent interbreeding between the morphs, thus preventing complete reproductive isolation.

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