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Evolution: Education and Outreach

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 541–546

First Online: 25 April 2012


Our understanding of the origin of species, or speciation, is sometimes viewed as incomplete, a -mystery of mysteries.- We in fact know a lot about speciation, especially when we consider its two basic components, the geography of speciation and the biology of speciation changes in phenotype and genotype that occur during the process. Our understanding of the geography of speciation is quite clear. The process involves the separation of a once-continuous range into two or more geographically isolated, or allopatric parts, which over time accrue genetic changes that result in new daughter species. Current distributions show that recently evolved species are currently allopatric, supporting the role of allopatry in speciation. However, many species originated in the early- to mid-Pleistocene, meaning that they persisted through the environmental perturbations of multiple glacial cycles. It has been assumed that species maintained allopatric distributions during these episodes of glacial advance and retreat. I used Grinnelian niche models to estimate species distributions at the Last Glacial Maximum and the Last Interglacial. For a pair of recently isolated warbler species, and a pair of relatively old sister species of gnatcatchers, allopatry was observed at all time periods. Thus, there is no mystery about the geography of speciation: at least in birds, allopatry predominates. The sentiment that speciation is mysterious comes, I argue, from the biological species concept, which requires populations to be reproductively isolated before recognizing them as species. Reproductive isolation is a complicated process that rarely occurs the same way twice, and I argue that this lack of generality has been misinterpreted as a mystery.

KeywordsSpecies concepts Speciation Allopatry Niche models  Download fulltext PDF

Autor: Robert M. Zink


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