Isolating Mechanisms


Isolating mechanisms are intrinsic characteristics of species that reduce or prevent successful reproduction with members of other species. Viewed genetically, they are characters that act as barriers to the exchange of genes between populations. Most of these barriers are incidental consequences of divergence between populations but they can be elaborated by natural selection. They can take many forms, from mismatches between mating signals and preferences to genetic incompatibilities causing sterility of hybrids. A major outstanding challenge is to document the contributions of different forms of isolation to the overall barrier to gene exchange between species and to understand the order in which these barriers evolve.

Key Concepts:

  • Isolating mechanisms are intrinsic characteristics of species that reduce or prevent successful reproduction with members of other species.

  • Many, perhaps most, isolating mechanisms are incidental consequences of divergence between populations, not fashioned by selection for the purpose of preventing gene flow.

  • Individual barriers to gene exchange act sequentially, which means that early acting barriers tend to have the greatest effect even though they may not have been the first to evolve.

  • Ecological components of isolation evolve through adaptation to local conditions and may reduce the probability of mating or the fitness of hybrids.

  • Behavioural components of isolation prevent mating even when reproductively active individuals meet and may evolve due to sexual selection on mating signals and responses.

  • Barriers can occur after mating but before zygote formation. These barriers may be a side‚Äźeffect of evolutionary conflicts of interest between males and females.

  • Divergent populations accumulate genetic differences. Inevitably some of the new genes are incompatible resulting in isolation through reduced viability or fertility of hybrids, especially in the heterogametic sex.

  • We still need to know more about the range of barriers operating in individual species pairs, the reasons for their evolution and the order in which they evolved.

Keywords: species; speciation; reinforcement; Haldane's Rule

Figure 1.

Use of different pollinators is a major component of isolation between (a) Mimulus cardinalis (© Curtis Clark 2006. Reproduced from‐03‐12.jpg) and (b) Mimulus lewisii (© Walter Siegmund 2011. Reproduced from see text for details.

Figure 2.

The unstriped morph (a) and the striped morph (b) of the walking stick, Timema cristinae, are well camouflaged on their preferred host plants (Ceanothus and Adenostoma, respectively). Individuals that move between plants suffer increased predation and this ‘immigrant inviability’ contributes to reproductive isolation (Nosil, ). (Photos: Aaron Comeault.)



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How to Cite close
Butlin, Roger K(Dec 2011) Isolating Mechanisms. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001747.pub2]