Letter

Nature 441, 210-213(11 May 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04566; Received 23 November 2005; Accepted 4 January 2006; Published online 8 February 2006

There is a Brief Communications Arising (26 October 2006) associated with this document.

There is a Brief Communications Arising (26 October 2006) associated with this document.

Sympatric speciation in palms on an oceanic island

Vincent Savolainen1, Marie-Charlotte Anstett2, Christian Lexer1, Ian Hutton3, James J. Clarkson1, Maria V. Norup1,4, Martyn P. Powell1, David Springate1, Nicolas Salamin5 and William J. Baker1

The origin of species diversity has challenged biologists for over two centuries. Allopatric speciation, the divergence of species resulting from geographical isolation, is well documented1. However, sympatric speciation, divergence without geographical isolation, is highly controversial2. Claims of sympatric speciation must demonstrate species sympatry, sister relationships, reproductive isolation, and that an earlier allopatric phase is highly unlikely1. Here we provide clear support for sympatric speciation in a case study of two species of palm (Arecaceae) on an oceanic island. A large dated phylogenetic tree shows that the two species of Howea, endemic to the remote Lord Howe Island, are sister taxa and diverged from each other well after the island was formed 6.9 million years ago3. During fieldwork, we found a substantial disjunction in flowering time that is correlated with soil preference. In addition, a genome scan4,5 indicates that few genetic loci are more divergent between the two species than expected under neutrality, a finding consistent with models of sympatric speciation involving disruptive/divergent selection2. This case study of sympatric speciation in plants provides an opportunity for refining theoretical models on the origin of species, and new impetus for exploring putative plant and animal examples on oceanic islands.

  1. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3DS, UK
  2. Centre for Evolutionary and Functional Ecology, UMR 5175, 1919 Route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier cedex 5, France
  3. PO Box 157, Lord Howe Island, New South Wales 2898, Australia
  4. Department of Systematic Botany, University of Aarhus, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
  5. Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

Correspondence to: Vincent Savolainen1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to V.S. (Email: v.savolainen@kew.org). DNA sequences have been deposited at EBI under accession numbers AF453329–AF453381, AY348907–AY348944, AY543096–AY5443156, AJ830020–AJ831373, AJ971821–AJ971841 (see Supplementary Information).

Received 23 November 2005 |Accepted 4 January 2006 |

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