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Concept: Speciation


Understanding why some hybrid zones are bimodal and others unimodal can aid in identifying barriers to gene exchange following secondary contact. The hybrid zone between the grasshoppers Chorthippus brunneus and C. jacobsi contains a mix of allopatric parental populations and inter-mingled bimodal and unimodal sympatric populations, and provides an ideal system to examine the roles of local selection and gene flow between populations in maintaining bimodality. However, it is first necessary to confirm, over a larger spatial scale, previously identified associations between population composition and season and habitat. Here we use cline-fitting of one morphological and one song trait along two valley transects, and intervening mountains, to confirm previously identified habitat associations (mountain versus valley) and seasonal changes in population composition. As expected from previous findings of studies on a smaller spatial scale, C. jacobsi dominated mountain habitats and mixed populations dominated valleys, and C. brunneus became more prevalent in August. Controlling for habitat and incorporating into the analysis seasonal changes in cline parameters and the standard errors of parental trait values revealed wider clines than previous studies (best estimates of 6.4 to 24.5 km in our study versus 2.8 to 4.7 km in previous studies) and increased percentage of trait variance explained (52.7% and 61.5% for transects 1 and 2 respectively, versus 17.6%). Revealing such strong and consistent patterns within a complex hybrid zone will allow more focused examination of the causes of variation in bimodality in mixed populations, in particular the roles of local selection versus habitat heterogeneity and gene flow between differentiated populations.

Concepts: Grasshoppers, Chorthippus brunneus, Season, Hybrid, Allopatric speciation, Chorthippus, Speciation, Hybrid zone


Islands are bounded areas where high endemism is explained either by allopatric speciation through the fragmentation of the limited amount of space available, or by sympatric speciation and accumulation of daughter species. Most empirical evidence point out the dominant action of allopatric speciation. We evaluate this general view by looking at a case study where sympatric speciation is suspected. We analyse the mode, tempo and geography of speciation in Agnotecous, a cricket genus endemic to New Caledonia showing a generalized pattern of sympatry between species making sympatric speciation plausible. We obtained five mitochondrial and five nuclear markers (6.8 kb) from 37 taxa corresponding to 17 of the 21 known extant species of Agnotecous, and including several localities per species, and we conducted phylogenetic and dating analyses. Our results suggest that the diversification of Agnotecous occurred mostly through allopatric speciation in the last 10 Myr. Highly microendemic species are the most recent ones (<2 Myr) and current sympatry is due to secondary range expansion after allopatric speciation. Species distribution should then be viewed as a highly dynamic process and extreme microendemism only as a temporary situation. We discuss these results considering the influence of climatic changes combined with intricate soil diversity and mountain topography. A complex interplay between these factors could have permitted repeated speciation events and range expansion.

Concepts: Evolution, Reproductive isolation, Biodiversity, Heteropatric speciation, Allopatric speciation, Sympatric speciation, Ecology, Speciation


Polyploidy poses challenges for phylogenetic reconstruction because of the need to identify and distinguish between homoeologous loci. This can be addressed by use of low copy nuclear markers. Panicum s.s. is a genus of about 100 species in the grass tribe Paniceae, subfamily Panicoideae, and is divided into five sections. Many of the species are known to be polyploids. The most well-known of the Panicum polyploids are switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and common or Proso millet (P. miliaceum). Switchgrass is in section Virgata, along with P. tricholaenoides, P. amarum, and P. amarulum, whereas P. miliaceum is in sect. Panicum. We have generated sequence data from five low copy nuclear loci and two chloroplast loci and have clarified the origin of P. virgatum. We find that all members of sects. Virgata and Urvilleana are the result of diversification after a single allopolyploidy event. The closest diploid relatives of switchgrass are in sect. Rudgeana, native to Central and South America. Within sections Virgata and Urvilleana, P. tricholaenoides is sister to the remaining species. Panicum racemosum and P. urvilleanum form a clade, which may be sister to P. chloroleucum. Panicum amarum, P. amarulum, and the lowland and upland ecotypes of P. virgatum together form a clade, within which relationships are complex. Hexaploid and octoploid plants are likely allopolyploids, with P. amarum and P. amarulum sharing genomes with P. virgatum. Octoploid P. virgatum plants are formed via hybridization between disparate tetraploids. We show that polyploidy precedes diversification in a complex set of polyploids; our data thus suggest that polyploidy could provide the raw material for diversification. In addition, we show two rounds of allopolyploidization in the ancestry of switchgrass, and identify additional species that may be part of its broader gene pool. This may be relevant for development of the crop for biofuels.

Concepts: Wheat, Evolution, Proso millet, Underutilized crops, Speciation, Panicum, Polyploidy, Species


Numerous studies have investigated cospeciation between parasites and their hosts, but there have been few studies concerning parasitoids and insect hosts. The high diversity and host specialization observed in Anicetus species suggest that speciation and adaptive radiation might take place with species diversification in scale insect hosts. Here we examined the evolutionary history of the association between Anicetus species and their scale insect hosts via distance-based and tree-based methods.

Concepts: Ant, Species, Insect, Speciation, Hemiptera, Parasitoid, Scale insect, Evolution


The mechanistic basis of speciation and in particular the contribution of behaviour to the completion of the speciation process is often contentious. Contact zones between related taxa provide a situation where selection against hybridization might reinforce separation by behavioural mechanisms, which could ultimately fully isolate the taxa. One of the most abundant European mammals, the common vole Microtus arvalis, forms multiple natural hybrid zones where rapidly diverging evolutionary lineages meet in secondary contact. Very narrow zones of hybridization spanning only a few kilometres and sex-specific gene flow patterns indicate reduced fitness of natural hybrids and incipient speciation between some of the evolutionary lineages. In this study, we examined the contribution of behavioural mechanisms to the speciation process in these rodents by fine-mapping allopatric and parapatric populations in the hybrid zone between the Western and Central lineages and experimental testing of the partner preferences of wild, pure-bred and hybrid female common voles.

Concepts: Evolution, Rodent, Hybrid zone, Common Vole, Vole, Natural selection, Microtus, Speciation


Apart from the overwhelming cases of allopolyploidization, the impact of speciation through homoploid hybridization is becoming more relevant than previously thought. Much less is known, however, about the impact of climate changes as a driven factor of speciation. To investigate these issues, we selected Festuca picoeuropeana, an hypothetical natural hybrid between the diploid species F. eskia and F. gautieri that occurs in two different mountain ranges (Cantabrian Mountains and Pyrenees) separated by more than 400 km. To unravel the outcomes of this mode of speciation and the impact of climate during speciation we used a multidisciplinary approach combining genome size and chromosome counts, data from an extensive nuclear genotypic analysis, plastid sequences and ecological niche models (ENM). Our results show that the same homoploid hybrid was originated independently in the two mountain ranges, being currently isolated from both parents and producing viable seeds. Parental species had the opportunity to contact as early as 21000 years ago although niche divergence occurs nowadays as result of a climate-driven shift. A high degree of niche divergence was observed between the hybrid and its parents and no recent introgression or backcrossed hybrids were detected, supporting the current presence of reproductive isolation barriers between these species.

Concepts: Genetics, Chromosome, Mountain, Climate change, DNA, Gene, Evolution, Speciation


Many species, including humans, have emerged via complex reticulate processes involving hybridisation. Under certain circumstances, hybridisation can cause distinct lineages to collapse into a single lineage with an admixed mosaic genome. Most known cases of such ‘speciation reversal’ or ‘lineage fusion’ involve recently diverged lineages and anthropogenic perturbation. Here, we show that in western North America, Common Ravens (Corvus corax) have admixed mosaic genomes formed by the fusion of non-sister lineages (‘California’ and ‘Holarctic’) that diverged ~1.5 million years ago. Phylogenomic analyses and concordant patterns of geographic structuring in mtDNA, genome-wide SNPs and nuclear introns demonstrate long-term admixture and random interbreeding between the non-sister lineages. In contrast, our genomic data support reproductive isolation between Common Ravens and Chihuahuan Ravens (C. cryptoleucus) despite extensive geographic overlap and a sister relationship between Chihuahuan Ravens and the California lineage. These data suggest that the Common Raven genome was formed by secondary lineage fusion and most likely represents a case of ancient speciation reversal that occurred without anthropogenic causes.

Concepts: Speciation, Corvidae, Polyploidy, Corvus, DNA, Chihuahuan Raven, Gene, Common Raven


Reconstructing the evolution of baleen whales (Mysticeti) has been problematic because morphological and genetic analyses have produced different scenarios. This might be caused by genomic admixture that may have taken place among some rorquals. We present the genomes of six whales, including the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), to reconstruct a species tree of baleen whales and to identify phylogenetic conflicts. Evolutionary multilocus analyses of 34,192 genome fragments reveal a fast radiation of rorquals at 10.5 to 7.5 million years ago coinciding with oceanic circulation shifts. The evolutionarily enigmatic gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is placed among rorquals, and the blue whale genome shows a high degree of heterozygosity. The nearly equal frequency of conflicting gene trees suggests that speciation of rorqual evolution occurred under gene flow, which is best depicted by evolutionary networks. Especially in marine environments, sympatric speciation might be common; our results raise questions about how genetic divergence can be established.

Concepts: Speciation, Organism, Baleen whales, Evolution, Gene, Fin whale, Genetics, Humpback whale


Phylosymbiosis was recently proposed to describe the eco-evolutionary pattern, whereby the ecological relatedness of host-associated microbial communities parallels the phylogeny of related host species. Here, we test the prevalence of phylosymbiosis and its functional significance under highly controlled conditions by characterizing the microbiota of 24 animal species from four different groups (Peromyscus deer mice, Drosophila flies, mosquitoes, and Nasonia wasps), and we reevaluate the phylosymbiotic relationships of seven species of wild hominids. We demonstrate three key findings. First, intraspecific microbiota variation is consistently less than interspecific microbiota variation, and microbiota-based models predict host species origin with high accuracy across the dataset. Interestingly, the age of host clade divergence positively associates with the degree of microbial community distinguishability between species within the host clades, spanning recent host speciation events (~1 million y ago) to more distantly related host genera (~108 million y ago). Second, topological congruence analyses of each group’s complete phylogeny and microbiota dendrogram reveal significant degrees of phylosymbiosis, irrespective of host clade age or taxonomy. Third, consistent with selection on host-microbiota interactions driving phylosymbiosis, there are survival and performance reductions when interspecific microbiota transplants are conducted between closely related and divergent host species pairs. Overall, these findings indicate that the composition and functional effects of an animal’s microbial community can be closely allied with host evolution, even across wide-ranging timescales and diverse animal systems reared under controlled conditions.

Concepts: Biology, Phylogenetics, Speciation, Binomial nomenclature, Archaea, Organism, Species, Evolution


Speciation results from the progressive accumulation of mutations that decrease the probability of mating between parental populations or reduce the fitness of hybrids-the so-called species barriers. The speciation genomic literature, however, is mainly a collection of case studies, each with its own approach and specificities, such that a global view of the gradual process of evolution from one to two species is currently lacking. Of primary importance is the prevalence of gene flow between diverging entities, which is central in most species concepts and has been widely discussed in recent years. Here, we explore the continuum of speciation thanks to a comparative analysis of genomic data from 61 pairs of populations/species of animals with variable levels of divergence. Gene flow between diverging gene pools is assessed under an approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) framework. We show that the intermediate “grey zone” of speciation, in which taxonomy is often controversial, spans from 0.5% to 2% of net synonymous divergence, irrespective of species life history traits or ecology. Thanks to appropriate modeling of among-locus variation in genetic drift and introgression rate, we clarify the status of the majority of ambiguous cases and uncover a number of cryptic species. Our analysis also reveals the high incidence in animals of semi-isolated species (when some but not all loci are affected by barriers to gene flow) and highlights the intrinsic difficulty, both statistical and conceptual, of delineating species in the grey zone of speciation.

Concepts: Mutation, Biology, Gene, Gene pool, Genetics, Speciation, Species, Evolution