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A sexually selected character displacement in flycatchers reinforces premating isolation


Theory suggests that natural selection against the production of unfit hybrids may reinforce barriers to gene flow, eventually leading to reproductive isolation of differentiated populations1,2,3,4. This mode of speciation may be achieved by female choice selecting for a divergence in male secondary sexual traits that facilitates species recognition. Although intuitively appealing, conclusive evidence for such reinforcement is generally lacking5,6,7,8, and serious doubts have been raised about its validity9,10,11. We have tested key predictions of the reinforcement hypothesis on the European, black-and-white, Ficedula flycatchers, using molecular techniques, field observations and mate choice experiments. In populations where two species coexist, we show that female choice selects for a divergence in male plumage colour and that the resulting character displacement reduces the frequency of hybridization.

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Figure 1: Phylogenetic relationships among sympatric and allopatric flycatchers based on mitochondrial DNA sequences.
Figure 2: Species recognition by female pied and collared flycatchers from sympatric populations.
Figure 3: Mate preferences of female flycatchers.


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We thank V. Bicˇík, O. H. Brekke, C. Chappuis, K. Clausen, E. Curio, B. Hallmann, K. Horáčková, K. Jakobsen, H. Källander, F. Krause, J. T. Lifjeld, J. Ormerod, M. Panayiotopoulou, T. Slagsvold and Y. Tsougrakis. Financial support was provided by the Norwegian Research Council.

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Correspondence to Glenn-Peter Stre.

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Stre, GP., Moum, T., Bureš, S. et al. A sexually selected character displacement in flycatchers reinforces premating isolation. Nature 387, 589–592 (1997).

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