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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Coyne, J. A. & Orr, H. A. Speciation (Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Massachusetts, 2004)
Gavrilets, S. Models of speciation: what have we learned in 40 years? Evolution 57, 2197–2215 (2003)
McDougall, I., Embleton, B. J. J. & Stone, D. B. Origin and evolution of Lord Howe Island, southwest Pacific Ocean. J. Geol. Soc. Aust. 28, 155–176 (1981)
Luikart, G., England, P., Tallmon, D., Jordan, S. & Taberlet, P. The power and promise of population genomics: from genotyping to genome typing. Nature Rev. Genet. 4, 981–994 (2003)
Beaumont, M. Adaptation and speciation: what can FST tell us? Trends Ecol. Evol. 20, 435–440 (2005)
Turelli, M., Barton, N. H. & Coyne, J. A. Theory and speciation. Trends Ecol. Evol. 16, 330–343 (2001)
Dieckmann, U. & Doebeli, M. On the origin of species by sympatric speciation. Nature 400, 354–357 (1999)
Higashi, M., Takimoto, G. & Yamamura, N. Sympatric speciation by sexual selection. Nature 402, 523–526 (1999)
Kondrashov, A. S. & Kondrashov, F. A. Interactions among quantitative traits in the course of sympatric speciation. Nature 400, 351–353 (1999)
Tregenza, T. & Butlin, R. K. Speciation without isolation. Nature 400, 311–312 (1999)
Filchak, K. E., Roethele, J. B. & Feder, J. L. Natural selection and sympatric divergence in the apple maggot Rhagoletis pomonella. Nature 407, 739–742 (2000)
Schliewen, U. K., Tautz, D. & Pääbo, S. Sympatric speciation suggested by crater lake cichlids. Nature 368, 629–632 (1994)
Meyer, A., Kocher, T. D., Basasibwaki, K. P. & Wilson, A. C. W. Monophyletic origin of Lake Victoria cichlid fishes suggested by mitochondrial DNA sequences. Nature 347, 550–553 (1990)
Bush, G. L. Sympatric speciation in animals, new wine in old bottles. Trends Ecol. Evol. 9, 285–288 (1994)
Sorenson, M. D., Sefc, K. M. & Payne, R. B. Speciation by host switch in brood indigo birds. Nature 424, 928–931 (2003)
Pickard, J. Vegetation of Lord Howe Island. Cunninghamia 1, 133–265 (1983)
Bailey, L. H. Howea in cultivation–the sentry palms. Gentes Herbarum 4, 189–198 (1939)
Oliver, W. R. B. The vegetation and flora of Lord Howe Island. Trans. Proc. NZ Inst. 49, 94–161 (1917)
Otto, S. P. & Whitton, J. Polyploid incidence and evolution. Annu. Rev. Genet. 34, 401–437 (2000)
Dransfield, J. et al. A new phylogenetic classification of the palm family, Arecaceae. Kew Bull. (in the press)
Sanderson, M. J. A nonparametric approach to estimating divergence times in the absence of rate constancy. Mol. Biol. Evol. 14, 1218–1231 (1997)
Kishino, H., Thorne, J. L. & Bruno, W. J. Performance of a divergence time estimation method under a probabilistic model of rate evolution. Mol. Biol. Evol. 18, 352–361 (2001)
Burrett, C., Duhig, N., Berry, R. & Varne, R. Asian and south-western Pacific continental terranes derived from Gondwana, and their biogeographic significance. Aust. Syst. Bot. 4, 13–24 (1991)
Beaumont, M. & Nichols, R. Evaluating loci for use in the genetic analysis of population structure. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 263, 1619–1626 (1996)
Via, S. Sympatric speciation in animals: the ugly duckling grows up. Trends Ecol. Evol. 16, 381–390 (2001)
Brooke, B. R., Woodroffe, C. D., Murray-Wallace, C. V., Heijnis, H. & Jones, B. G. Quaternary calcarenite stratigraphy on Lord Howe Island, southern Pacific Ocean and the record of coastal carbonate deposition. Quat. Sci. Rev. 22, 859–880 (2003)
Doebeli, M., Dieckmann, U., Metz, J. & Tautz, D. What we have also learned: adaptive speciation is theoretically plausible. Evolution 59, 691–695 (2005)
Swofford, D. L. PAUP* 4.0: Phylogenetic Analysis Using Parsimony (*and Other Methods) (Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Massachusetts, 2001)
Vaughan, R. E. & Wiehe, P. O. Studies on the vegetation of Mauritius 1: a preliminary survey of the plant communities. J. Ecol. 25, 289–343 (1937)
Berry, E. W. A palm from the mid-Cretaceous. Torreya 5, 30–33 (1905)
We thank the Lord Howe Island Board, L. Wilson, T. Wilson, J. Smith and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service for facilitating this research; E. Brown and B. Conn for logistical support; T. Wilmot, R. Cowan, L. Llédo, I. Gallego and L. Hanson for research assistance; C. Lewis, J. Roncal, M. Thomas and M. Beaumont for sharing data and software; J. Dowe, the Flecker Botanic Garden and Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney for providing material; J. Moat for GIS assistance; J. Dransfield, J.-C. Pintaud, S. Gavrilets, M. Chase, T. Barraclough and L. Rieseberg for discussions; and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the BAT Biodiversity Partnership, the European Commission and the Leverhulme Trust for funding.
DNA sequences have been deposited at EBI under accession numbers AF453329–AF453381, AY348907–AY348944, AY543096–AY5443156, AJ830020–AJ831373, AJ971821–AJ971841 (see Supplementary Information). Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Savolainen, V., Anstett, M., Lexer, C. et al. Sympatric speciation in palms on an oceanic island. Nature 441, 210–213 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04566
Diving into divergence: Differentiation in swimming performances, physiology and gene expression between locally‐adapted sympatric cichlid fishes
Molecular Ecology (2020)
Phenological shifts and genetic differentiation between sympatric populations of Sargassum horneri (Fucales, Phaeophyceae) in Japan
Marine Ecology Progress Series (2020)
Annals of Botany (2020)
Genetic diversity and karyotype of Pitcairnia azouryi: an endangered species of Bromeliaceae endemic to Atlantic Forest inselbergs
Molecular Biology Reports (2020)
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2020)