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  1. Abstract

    Mitochondria have been known to be involved in speciation through the generation of Dobzhansky–Muller incompatibilities, where functionally neutral co-evolution between mitochondrial and nuclear genomes can cause dysfunction when alleles are recombined in hybrids. We propose that adaptive mitochondrial divergence between populations can not only produce intrinsic (Dobzhansky–Muller) incompatibilities, but could also contribute to reproductive isolation through natural and sexual selection against migrants, post-mating prezygotic isolation, as well as by causing extrinsic reductions in hybrid fitness. We describe how these reproductive isolating barriers can potentially arise through adaptive divergence of mitochondrial function in the absence of mito-nuclear coevolution, a departure from more established views. While a role for mitochondria in the speciation process appears promising, we also highlight critical gaps of knowledge: (1) many systems with a potential for mitochondrially-mediated reproductive isolation lack crucial evidence directly linking reproductive isolation and mitochondrial function; (2) it often remains to be seen if mitochondrial barriers are a driver or a consequence of reproductive isolation; (3) the presence of substantial gene flow in the presence of mito-nuclear incompatibilities raises questions whether such incompatibilities are strong enough to drive speciation to completion; and (4) it remains to be tested how mitochondrial effects on reproductive isolation compare when multiple mechanisms of reproductive isolation coincide. We hope this perspective and the proposed research plans help to inform future studies of mitochondrial adaptation in a manner that links genotypic changes to phenotypic adaptations, fitness, and reproductive isolation in natural systems, helping to clarify the importance of mitochondria in the formation and maintenance of biological diversity.

     
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