How important is sexual isolation to speciation?

KL Shaw*, CR Cooney, TC Mendelson, MG Ritchie, NS Roberts, LH Yusuf

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A central role for sexual isolation in the formation of new species and establishment of species boundaries has been noticed since Darwin and is frequently emphasized in the modern literature on speciation. However, an objective evaluation of when and how sexual isolation plays a role in speciation has been carried out in few taxa. We discuss three approaches for assessing the importance of sexual isolation relative to other reproductive barriers, including the relative evolutionary rate of sexual trait differentiation, the relative strength of sexual isolation in sympatry, and the role of sexual isolation in the long-term persistence of diverging forms. First, we evaluate evidence as to whether sexual isolation evolves faster than other reproductive barriers during the early stages of divergence. Second, we discuss available evidence as to whether sexual isolation is as strong or stronger than other barriers between closely related sympatric species. Finally, we consider the effect of sexual isolation on long-term species persistence, relative to other reproductive barriers. We highlight challenges to our knowledge of and opportunities to improve upon our understanding of sexual isolation from different phases of the speciation process.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbera041427
Number of pages17
JournalCold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology
Issue number4
Early online date12 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


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