• adaptation;
  • climate change;
  • temperature;
  • speciation


Ecological speciation is defined as the emergence of reproductive isolation as a direct or indirect consequence of divergent ecological adaptation. Several empirical examples of ecological speciation have been reported in the literature which very often involve adaptation to biotic resources. In this review, we investigate whether adaptation to different thermal habitats could also promote speciation and try to assess the importance of such processes in nature. Our survey of the literature identified 16 animal and plant systems where divergent thermal adaptation may underlie (partial) reproductive isolation between populations or may allow the stable coexistence of sibling taxa. In many of the systems, the differentially adapted populations have a parapatric distribution along an environmental gradient. Isolation often involves extrinsic selection against locally maladapted parental or hybrid genotypes, and additional pre- or postzygotic barriers may be important. Together, the identified examples strongly suggest that divergent selection between thermal environments is often strong enough to maintain a bimodal genotype distribution upon secondary contact. What is less clear from the available data is whether it can also be strong enough to allow ecological speciation in the face of gene flow through reinforcement-like processes. It is possible that intrinsic features of thermal gradients or the genetic basis of thermal adaptation make such reinforcement-like processes unlikely but it is equally possible that pertinent systems are understudied. Overall, our literature survey highlights (once again) the dearth of studies that investigate similar incipient species along the continuum from initial divergence to full reproductive isolation and studies that investigate all possible reproductive barriers in a given system.