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Selection against accumulating mutations in niche-preference genes can drive speciation.

Abstract

Our current understanding of sympatric speciation is that it occurs primarily through disruptive selection on ecological genes driven by competition, followed by reproductive isolation through reinforcement-like selection against inferior intermediates/heterozygotes. Our evolutionary model of selection on resource recognition and preference traits suggests a new mechanism for sympatric speciation. We find speciation can occur in three phases. First a polymorphism of functionally different phenotypes is established through evolution of specialization. On the gene level, regulatory functions have evolved in which some alleles are conditionally switched off (i.e. are silent). These alleles accumulate harmful mutations that potentially may be expressed in offspring through recombination. Second mating associated with resource preference invades because harmful mutations in parents are not expressed in the offspring when mating assortatively, thereby dividing the population into two pre-zygotically isolated resource-specialist lineages. Third, silent alleles that evolved in phase one now accumulate deleterious mutations over the following generations in a Bateson-Dobzhansky-Muller fashion, establishing a post-zygotic barrier to hybridization.

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