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Ecol Lett. 2013 Jul;16(7):940-50. doi: 10.1111/ele.12120. Epub 2013 Apr 30.

Widespread evidence for incipient ecological speciation: a meta-analysis of isolation-by-ecology.

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Department of Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.


Ecologically mediated selection has increasingly become recognised as an important driver of speciation. The correlation between neutral genetic differentiation and environmental or phenotypic divergence among populations, to which we collectively refer to as isolation-by-ecology (IBE), is an indicator of ecological speciation. In a meta-analysis framework, we determined the strength and commonality of IBE in nature. On the basis of 106 studies, we calculated a mean effect size of IBE with and without controlling for spatial autocorrelation among populations. Effect sizes were 0.34 (95% CI 0.24-0.42) and 0.26 (95% CI 0.13-0.37), respectively, indicating that an average of 5% of the neutral genetic differentiation among populations was explained purely by ecological contrast. Importantly, spatial autocorrelation reduced IBE correlations for environmental variables, but not for phenotypes. Through simulation, we showed how the influence of isolation-by-distance and spatial autocorrelation of ecological variables can result in false positives or underestimated correlations if not accounted for in the IBE model. Collectively, this meta-analysis showed that ecologically induced genetic divergence is pervasive across time-scales and taxa, and largely independent of the choice of molecular marker. We discuss the importance of these results in the context of adaptation and ecological speciation and suggest future research avenues.

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