The Genetics and Ecology of Reinforcement

Implications for the Evolution of Prezygotic Isolation in Sympatry and Beyond


Address for correspondence: Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos, The University of Queensland, School of Biological Sciences, Goddard Building (8) R120, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia. Voice: 61-7-3365-1767; fax: 61-7-3365-1655.


Reinforcement, the evolution of prezygotic reproductive barriers by natural selection in response to maladaptive hybridization, is one of the most debated processes in speciation. Critics point to “fatal” conceptual flaws for sympatric evolution of prezygotic isolation, but recent theoretical and empirical work on genetics and ecology of reinforcement suggests that such criticisms can be overcome. New studies provide evidence for reinforcement in frogs, fish, insects, birds, and plants. While such evidence lays to rest the argument over reinforcement's existence, our understanding remains incomplete. We lack data on (1) the genetic basis of female preferences and the links between genetics of pre- and postzygotic isolation, (2) the ecological basis of reproductive isolation, (3) connections between prezygotic isolation between species and within-species sexual selection (potentially leading to a “cascade” of effects on reproductive isolation), (4) the role of habitat versus mate preference in reinforcement, and (5) additional detailed comparative studies. Here, we review data on these issues and highlight why they are important for understanding speciation.