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Ecological speciation occurs when ecologically based, divergent selection causes the evolution of reproductive isolation. There are many empirical examples of this process; however, there exists a poorly characterized stage during which the traits that distinguish species ecologically and reproductively segregate in a single population. By using a combination of genetic mapping, mate-choice experiments, field observations, and population genetics, we studied a butterfly population with a mimetic wing color polymorphism and found that the butterflies exhibited partial, color-based, assortative mate preference. These traits represent the divergent, ecologically based signal and preference components of sexual isolation that usually distinguish incipient and sibling species. The association between behavior and recognition trait in a single population may enhance the probability of speciation and provides an example of the missing link between an interbreeding population and isolated species.
↵* These authors contributed equally to this work.