Adaptation to environmental stress: a rare or frequent driver of speciation?


C. Lexer, Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3DS, UK.
Tel.: +44 (0)20 8332 5341; fax: +44 (0)20 8332 5310; e-mail:


Recent results of evolutionary genomics and other research programmes indicate an important role for environment-dependent selection in speciation, but the conceptual frameworks of speciation genetics and environmental stress physiology have not been fully integrated. Only a small number of model systems have been established for cross-disciplinary studies of this type in animals and plants. In these taxa (e.g. Drosophila and Arabidopsis/Arabis), studies of the mechanistic basis of various stress responses are increasingly combined with attempts to understand their evolutionary consequences. Our understanding of the role of environmental stress in speciation would benefit from studies of a larger variety of taxa. We pinpoint areas for future study and predict that in many taxa ‘broad’ hybrid zones maintained by ecological selection will be valuable venues for addressing the link between environmental stress, adaptation, and speciation.