Allopatric Speciation - Genesis of Reproductive Barriers

Genesis of Reproductive Barriers

Adaptive divergence may occur when a population becomes geographically divided: followed by an accumulation of genetic differences as they adapt to their own unique environments. Reproductive barriers do not evolve as a consequence of external forces that drive populations toward speciation. Rather, the evolution of reproductive isolation, leading to speciation, is generally thought to be an incidental by-product of genetic divergence, particularly adaptive changes that evolve through natural selection in response to different environmental conditions in separate geographic areas.

The Biological Species Concept, proposed by Ernst Mayr, in 1942, emphasizes reproductive isolation as the basis of defining a species. The definition states: "A species is defined as a population or group of populations whose members have the potential to interbreed with one another in nature and to produce viable offspring, but cannot produce viable, fertile offspring with members of other species." Mayr, a proponent of allopatric speciation, hypothesized that adaptive genetic changes that accumulate between allopatric populations cause negative epistasis in hybrids, resulting in sterility of the offspring.

If there is considerable genetic and phenotypic change without the loss of the capacity for interbreeding, then such hybridization is simply prevented by the geographical separation of populations. In this case the populations are normally regarded as subspecies.

The frequency of other types of speciation, such as sympatric speciation, parapatric speciation, and heteropatric speciation, is debated. Proponents of peripatric speciation contend that small population size in the peripheral isolate (sometimes referred to as a "splinter population") increases genetic drift, which can be a more powerful force than natural selection in small populations. It deconstructs complex genotypes, allowing the creation of novel gene combinations. Both forms need not be mutually exclusive. In practice, passive isolation or fragmentation as well as active dispersal seem to play a role in many cases of speciation.

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