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Satellite species in lampreys: a worldwide trend for ecological speciation in sympatry?

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Amongst several theories of speciation, sympatric speciation has been the most controversial but it is now widely accepted that populations can become reproductively isolated without being separated geographically. One problem with the acceptance of the theory of sympatric speciation, however, has been the lack of supporting empirical data and it is still believed that geographical isolation is responsible for the majority of speciation events. Here the example of species pairs in lampreys suggests that sympatric speciation in a whole taxonomic group could occur throughout its worldwide range.

Lampreys occur in two ecologically distinct forms: parasitic mostly anadromous species that forage on tissue and body fluids of host fishes, and non-parasitic forms that, apart from a short adult life when they cease feeding, spend their entire life as filter feeders in the substratum of stream beds. Both forms occur in sympatric species pairs throughout the range of lampreys that occur in Eurasia, North America and Australia and it is widely acknowledged that non-parasitic forms derive from parasitic forms. The larvae of both forms can be distinguished by their potential fecundity and therefore, it is argued that the mode of life is not a consequence of different ecological conditions. Furthermore, as lampreys prefer to choose mates of similar sizes and fertilization success decreases with increasing difference in body size, there is a strong disruptive selection between the two forms and they are therefore reproductively isolated. Besides theoretical aspects, the similarity of the species pairs, together with their occurrence in sympatry, the occurrence of forms with intermediate characteristics, and examples where speciation might be in progress, hints at the possibility that speciation also occurred in sympatry. The difference between lampreys and other examples of sympatric speciation is that there seems to be a trend towards sympatric speciation events throughout the worldwide range of lampreys which is neither restricted to relatively small localities nor caused by human disturbance. Species pairs in lampreys therefore offer a unique possibility of studying the process of sympatric speciation on a large scale.
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Keywords: lampreys; non-parasitic; parasitic; species pairs; sympatric speciation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Prinz-Rupprecht Street 34, 93053 Regensburg, Germany

Publication date: 2003-08-01

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