Social plasticity enhances signal-preference codivergence

Camille Desjonquères*, Bretta Speck, Sara Seidita, Lauren A. Cirino, Ignacio Escalante, Clinton Sergi, Jak Maliszewski, Christine Wiese, Gerlinde Hoebel, Nathan W. Bailey, Rafael L. Rodríguez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The social environment is often the most dynamic and fitness-relevant environment animals experience. Here we tested whether plasticity arising from variation in social environments can promote signal-preference divergence—a key prediction of recent speciation theory but one that has proven difficult to test in natural systems. Interactions in mixed social aggregations could reduce, create, or enhance signal-preference differences. In the latter case, social plasticity could establish or increase assortative mating. We tested this by rearing two recently diverged species of Enchenopa treehoppers—sap-feeding insects that communicate with plant-borne vibrational signals—in treatments consisting of mixed-species versus own-species aggregations. Social experience with heterospecifics (in the mixed-species treatment) resulted in enhanced signal-preference species differences. For one of the two species, we tested but found no differences in the plastic response between sympatric and allopatric sites, suggesting the absence of reinforcement in the signals and preferences and their plastic response. Our results support the hypothesis that social plasticity can create or enhance signal-preference differences and that this might occur in the absence of long-term selection against hybridization on plastic responses themselves. Such social plasticity may facilitate rapid bursts of diversification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-855
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
Early online date30 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Indirect genetic effects
  • Mating preference
  • Courtship signal
  • Membracidae
  • Vibrational communication


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