The role of sexual imprinting in speciation: lessons from deer mice (genus Peromyscus)
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CitationKay, Emily Ho. 2014. The role of sexual imprinting in speciation: lessons from deer mice (genus Peromyscus). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractSexual imprinting, the process of learning mate preferences at a young age, could promote speciation by reducing attraction to individuals from divergent populations or species, consequently creating or maintaining reproductive isolation. Yet, despite the documentation of sexual imprinting in many taxa, its connection to speciation has been understudied. I chose to explore the potential link between sexual imprinting and reproductive isolation and in two North American rodents--the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and its sister species, the cotton mouse (Peromyscus gossypinus). These species have overlapping distributions in nature, possibly allowing interbreeding and admixture. In Chapter 1, I used double-digest restriction-associated DNA sequencing to test for hybridization in sympatric natural populations and found that 1.5% of sampled individuals showed evidence of admixture yet the species have maintained genetic distinctness in sympatry. In the lab, the species hybridize when given no choice of mates but mate more readily with conspecifics, suggesting that mating preferences may prevent hybridization in the wild. In Chapter 2, I tested whether mating preferences create significant reproductive isolation. I measured mating preferences in controlled laboratory conditions and found that both species and sexes preferred conspecific to heterospecific mates in 85% of trials. I then raised offspring with foster parents of the opposite species and found that P. leucopus has a genetically-determined preference while P. gossypinus learns its preference. In Chapter 3, I tested whether sexual imprinting on parental diet could generate assortative mating within a species. I tested this hypothesis by feeding P. gossypinus parents either orange- or garlic-flavored water, thereby exposing their offspring to these flavors through their parents until weaning. I tested the preferences of these offspring as adults and found that P. gossypinus, especially females, had strong assortative mating preferences. This implies that at least females learn parental dietary information and that assortative mating could evolve within a single generation. Together, my results confirm that sexual imprinting on parental traits--possibly mediated through dietary differences--can create assortative mating capable of generating sexual isolation and reducing gene flow between species. My research supports the importance of mating preferences and learning in speciation.
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