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Science  07 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6137, pp. 1142
DOI: 10.1126/science.340.6137.1142-a

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CREDIT: © ELI DUKE

The mechanisms by which speciation occurs have been a mystery because they are generally best uncovered after populations have diverged and are reproductively isolated. In order to identify the genetic changes that occur after species are geographically isolated, Wessel et al. examined Hawaiian leafhoppers (the monophyletic radiation encompassing the Oliarus polyphemus species complex). Leafhoppers have colonized lava tubes, thus providing replicates within similar environmental complexes. These insects exhibit cryptic speciation on the basis of their mating calls, and the authors identified differentiation in acoustic and morphometric characters that is random with respect to cave age and distribution. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA suggested a correlation between genetic distance and geographic distance but not with age of the cave, whereas phenotypic variability decreased with cave age. These results suggest that stochastic genetic effects are likely responsible for the rapid evolution observed in this group and that this system warrants further investigation to understand the consequence of the founder effect on speciation.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 110, 10.1073/pnas.1301657110 (2013).

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