Artificial neural networks in models of specialization, guild evolution and sympatric speciation.


Sympatric speciation can arise as a result of disruptive selection with assortative mating as a pleiotropic by-product. Studies on host choice, employing artificial neural networks as models for the host recognition system in exploiters, illustrate how disruptive selection on host choice coupled with assortative mating can arise as a consequence of selection for specialization. Our studies demonstrate that a generalist exploiter population can evolve into a guild of specialists with an 'ideal free' frequency distribution across hosts. The ideal free distribution arises from variability in host suitability and density-dependent exploiter fitness on different host species. Specialists are less subject to inter-phenotypic competition than generalists and to harmful mutations that are common in generalists exploiting multiple hosts. When host signals used as cues by exploiters coevolve with exploiter recognition systems, our studies show that evolutionary changes may be continuous and cyclic. Selection changes back and forth between specialization and generalization in the exploiters, and weak and strong mimicry in the hosts, where non-defended hosts use the host investing in defence as a model. Thus, host signals and exploiter responses are engaged in a red-queen mimicry process that is ultimately cyclic rather then directional. In one phase, evolving signals of exploitable hosts mimic those of hosts less suitable for exploitation (i.e. the model). Signals in the model hosts also evolve through selection to escape the mimic and its exploiters. Response saturation constraints in the model hosts lead to the mimic hosts finally perfecting its mimicry, after which specialization in the exploiter guild is lost. This loss of exploiter specialization provides an opportunity for the model hosts to escape their mimics. Therefore, this cycle then repeats. We suggest that a species can readily evolve sympatrically when disruptive selection for specialization on hosts is the first step. In a sexual reproduction setting, partial reproductive isolation may first evolve by mate choice being confined to individuals on the same host. Secondly, this disruptive selection will favour assortative mate choice on genotype, thereby leading to increased reproductive isolation.

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