Speciation is the evolutionary process by which populations evolve to become distinct species. The biologist Orator F. Cook coined the term in 1906 for cladogenesis, the splitting of lineages, as opposed to anagenesis, phyletic evolution within lineages.[1][2][3] Charles Darwin was the first to describe the role of natural selection in speciation in his 1859 book The Origin of Species.[4] He also identified sexual selection as a likely mechanism, but found it problematic.

There are four geographic modes of speciation in nature, based on the extent to which speciating populations are isolated from one another: allopatric, peripatric, parapatric, and sympatric. Speciation may also be induced artificially, through animal husbandry, agriculture, or laboratory experiments. Whether genetic drift is a minor or major contributor to speciation is the subject matter of much ongoing discussion.

Rapid sympatric speciation can take place through polyploidy, such as by doubling of chromosome number; the result is progeny which are immediately reproductively isolated from the parent population. New species can also be created through hybridisation followed, if the hybrid is favoured by natural selection, by reproductive isolation.

Historical background

In addressing the question of the origin of species, there are two key issues: (1) what are the evolutionary mechanisms of speciation, and (2) what accounts for the separateness and individuality of species in the biota? Since Charles Darwin's time, efforts to understand the nature of species have primarily focused on the first aspect, and it is now widely agreed that the critical factor behind the origin of new species is reproductive isolation.[5] Next we focus on the second aspect of the origin of species.

Darwin's dilemma: Why do species exist?

In On the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin interpreted biological evolution in terms of natural selection, but was perplexed by the clustering of organisms into species.[6] Chapter 6 of Darwin's book is entitled "Difficulties of the Theory." In discussing these "difficulties" he noted "Firstly, why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined?" This dilemma can be referred to as the absence or rarity of transitional varieties in habitat space.[7]

Another dilemma,[8] related to the first one, is the absence or rarity of transitional varieties in time. Darwin pointed out that by the theory of natural selection "innumerable transitional forms must have existed," and wondered "why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth." That clearly defined species actually do exist in nature in both space and time implies that some fundamental feature of natural selection operates to generate and maintain species.[6]

The effect of sexual reproduction on species formation

It has been argued that the resolution of Darwin's first dilemma lies in the fact that out-crossing sexual reproduction has an intrinsic cost of rarity.[9][10][11][12][13] The cost of rarity arises as follows. If, on a resource gradient, a large number of separate species evolve, each exquisitely adapted to a very narrow band on that gradient, each species will, of necessity, consist of very few members. Finding a mate under these circumstances may present difficulties when many of the individuals in the neighborhood belong to other species. Under these circumstances, if any species’ population size happens, by chance, to increase (at the expense of one or other of its neighboring species, if the environment is saturated), this will immediately make it easier for its members to find sexual partners. The members of the neighboring species, whose population sizes have decreased, experience greater difficulty in finding mates, and therefore form pairs less frequently than the larger species. This has a snowball effect, with large species growing at the expense of the smaller, rarer species, eventually driving them to extinction. Eventually, only a few species remain, each distinctly different from the other.[9][10][12] The cost of rarity not only involves the costs of failure to find a mate, but also indirect costs such as the cost of communication in seeking out a partner at low population densities.

African pygmy kingfisher, showing coloration shared by all adults of that species to a high degree of fidelity.[14]

Rarity brings with it other costs. Rare and unusual features are very seldom advantageous. In most instances, they indicate a (non-silent) mutation, which is almost certain to be deleterious. It therefore behooves sexual creatures to avoid mates sporting rare or unusual features (koinophilia).[15][16] Sexual populations therefore rapidly shed rare or peripheral phenotypic features, thus canalizing the entire external appearance, as illustrated in the accompanying illustration of the African pygmy kingfisher, Ispidina picta. This uniformity of all the adult members of a sexual species has stimulated the proliferation of field guides on birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, and many other taxa, in which a species can be described with a single illustration (or two, in the case of sexual dimorphism). Once a population has become as homogeneous in appearance as is typical of most species (and is illustrated in the photograph of the African pygmy kingfisher), its members will avoid mating with members of other populations that look different from themselves.[17] Thus, the avoidance of mates displaying rare and unusual phenotypic features inevitably leads to reproductive isolation, one of the hallmarks of speciation.[18][19][20][21]

In the contrasting case of organisms that reproduce asexually, there is no cost of rarity; consequently, there are only benefits to fine-scale adaptation. Thus, asexual organisms very frequently show the continuous variation in form (often in many different directions) that Darwin expected evolution to produce, making their classification into "species" (more correctly, morphospecies) very difficult.[9][15][16][22][23][24]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Spesievorming
العربية: انتواع
azərbaycanca: Növləşmə
български: Видообразуване
bosanski: Specijacija
català: Especiació
čeština: Speciace
Deutsch: Artbildung
eesti: Liigiteke
Ελληνικά: Ειδογένεση
español: Especiación
Esperanto: Speciigo
euskara: Espeziazio
français: Spéciation
galego: Especiación
한국어: 종분화
hrvatski: Specijacija
Bahasa Indonesia: Spesiasi
interlingua: Speciation
ಕನ್ನಡ: ಜಾತೀಕರಣ
Kreyòl ayisyen: Espesyasyon
македонски: Видообразба
Bahasa Melayu: Penspesiesan
Nederlands: Soortvorming
日本語: 種分化
norsk nynorsk: Artsdanning
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Turlanish (biologiya)
português: Especiação
română: Speciație
Simple English: Speciation
slovenčina: Speciácia
српски / srpski: Specijacija
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Specijacija
svenska: Artbildning
Tagalog: Espesyasyon
Türkçe: Türleşme
українська: Видоутворення
Tiếng Việt: Sự hình thành loài
中文: 物种形成