Laboratory experiments of speciation

Laboratory experiments of speciation have been conducted for all four modes of speciation: allopatric, peripatric, parapatric, and sympatric; and various other processes involving speciation: hybridization, reinforcement, founder effects, among others.

Most of the experiments have been done on flies, in particular Drosophila fruit flies. However, more recent studies have tested yeasts, fungi, and even viruses.

Laboratory experiments of speciation
A simplification of an allopatric speciation experiment where two lines of fruit flies are raised on maltose and starch media

It has been suggested that laboratory experiments are not conducive to vicariant speciation events (allopatric and peripatric) due to their small population sizes and limited generations. Most estimates from studies of nature indicate that speciation takes hundreds of thousands to millions of years. On the other hand, many species are thought to have speciated faster and more recently, such as the European flounders (Platichthys flesus) that spawn in pelagic and demersal zones—having allopatrically speciated in under 3000 generations.

Table of experiments

Six publications have attempted to compile, review, and analyze the experimental research on speciation:

  1. John Ringo, David Wood, Robert Rockwell, and Harold Dowse in 1985;
  2. William R. Rice and Ellen E. Hostert in 1993;
  3. Ann-Britt Florin and Anders Ödeen in 2002;
  4. Mark Kirkpatrick and Virginie Ravigné in 2002;
  5. Jerry A. Coyne and H. Allen Orr in 2004; and
  6. James D. Fry in 2009.

The table summarizes the studies and data reviewed in these publications. It also references several contemporary experiments and is non-exhaustive. In the table, multiple numbers separated by semi-colons in the generations column indicate that multiple experiments were conducted. The replications (in parentheses) indicates the number of populations used in the experiments—i.e. how many times the experiment was replicated. Various types of selection have been imposed on experimental populations and are indicated by the selection type column. Negative or positive results of each experiment are provided by the reproductive isolation column. Pre-zygotic reproductive isolation means that the reproducing individuals in the populations were unable to produce offspring (effectively a positive result). Post-zygotic isolation means that the reproducing individuals were able to produce offspring but they were either sterile or inviable (a positive result as well). Negative results are indicated by "none"—that is, the experiments did not result in reproductive isolation.

Laboratory experiments of speciation
Species Trait Generations (replications) [duration] Tested Selection type Studied genetic drift Reproductive isolation Reference Year
Drosophila melanogaster Escape response 18 Vicariant, reinforcement, parapatric/


Indirect; divergent Yes Pre-zygotic Grant & Mettler 1969
D. melanogaster Locomotion 112 Vicariant Indirect; divergent No Pre-zygotic Burnet & Connolly 1974
D. melanogaster Temperature, humidity 70–130 Vicariant Indirect; divergent Yes Pre-zygotic Kilias et al. 1980
D. melanogaster DDT adaptation 600 [25 years, +15 years] Vicariant Direct No Pre-zygotic Boake et al. 2003
D. melanogaster 17, 9, 9, 1, 1, 7, 7, 7, 7 Vicariant; parapatric/


Direct, divergent Pre-zygotic in vicariance; none with gene flow Barker & Karlsson 1974
D. melanogaster 40; 50 Reinforcement Direct; divergent Pre-zygotic Crossley 1974
D. melanogaster Locomotion 45 Vicariant Direct; divergent No None van Dijken & Scharloo 1979
D. melanogaster Reinforcement Direct; divergent Pre-zygotic Wallace 1953
D. melanogaster 36; 31 Reinforcement Direct; divergent Pre-zygotic Knight 1956
D. melanogaster EDTA adaptation 25, 25, 25, 14 Semi-allopatric, reinforcement Indirect; divergent No Post-zygotic Robertson 1966
D. melanogaster 25 (8) Vicariant; reinforcement; parapatric; sympatric Direct None Hostert 1997
D. melanogaster Abdominal chaeta


21–31 Vicariant Direct Yes None Santibanez & Waddington 1958
D. melanogaster Sternopleural chaeta number 32 Vicariant, reinforcement, parapatric/


Direct No None Barker & Cummins 1969
D. melanogaster Phototaxis, geotaxis 20 Vicariant No None Markow 1975; 1981
D. melanogaster Peripatric Yes Rundle et al. 1998
D. melanogaster Vicariant; peripatric Yes Mooers et al. 1999
D. melanogaster 12 Reinforcement Divergent Pre-zygotic Thoday & Gibson 1962
D. melanogaster None Thoday & Gibson 1970; 1971
D. melanogaster 16 Reinforcement Indirect None Spiess & Wilke 1954
D. melanogaster Reinforcement Direct; divergent Pre-zygotic Ehrman 1971; 1973; 1979; 1983
D. melanogaster Sternopleural chaeta number 5; 27; 27; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1 Parapatric/


None Chabora 1968
D. melanogaster None Scharloo 1967
D. melanogaster 1, 1 Coyne & Grant 1972
D. melanogaster 25 Rice 1985
D. melanogaster 25 Disruptive Pre-zygotic Rice & Salt 1988
D. melanogaster 35; 35 Sympatric Pre-zygotic Rice & Salt 1990
D. melanogaster NaCl and CuSO4 levels in food [3 years in allopatry, 1 in sympatry] Allopatric; reinforcement; sympatric Pre-zygotic in allopatry, none in sympatry Wallace 1982
D. melanogaster Reinforcement Ehrman et al. 1991
D. melanogaster Reinforcement Fukatami & Moriwaki 1970
Drosophila simulans Scutellar bristles, development speed, wing width; desiccation resistance, fecundity, ethanol resistance; courtship display, re-mating speed, lek behavior; pupation height, clumped egg laying, general activity [3 years] Vicariant; peripatric Yes Post-zygotic Ringo et al. 1985
Drosophila paulistorum 131; 131 Reinforcement Direct Pre-zygotic Dobzhansky et al. 1976
D. paulistorum [5 years] Vicariant Dobzhansky and Pavlovsky 1966
Drosophila willistoni pH adaptation 34–122 Vicariant Indirect; divergent No Pre-zygotic Kalisz & Cordeiro 1980
Drosophila pseudoobscura Carbohydrate source 12 Vicariant Indirect Yes Pre-zygotic Dodd 1989
D. pseudoobscura Temperature adaptation 25–60 Vicariant Direct Ehrman 1964;


D. pseudoobscura Phototaxis, geotaxis 5–11 Vicariant Indirect No Pre-zygotic del Solar 1966
D. pseudoobscura Vicariant; peripatric Pre-zygotic Powell 1978; 1985
D. pseudoobscura Peripatric; vicariant Yes Galiana et al. 1993
D. pseudoobscura Temperature photoperiod; food 37 (78) [33–34 months] Vicariant Divergent Yes None Rundle 2003
D. pseudoobscura &

Drosophila persimilis

22; 16; 9 Reinforcement Direct; divergent Pre-zygotic Koopman 1950
D. pseudoobscura &

D. persimilis

18 (4) Direct Pre-zygotic Kessler 1966
Drosophila mojavensis 12 Direct Pre-zygotic Koepfer 1987
D. mojavensis Development time 13 Divergent Yes None Etges 1998
Drosophila adiastola Peripatric Yes Pre-zygotic Arita & Kaneshiro 1974
Drosophila silvestris Peripatric Yes Ahearn 1980
Musca domestica Geotaxis 38 Vicariant Indirect No Pre-zygotic Soans et al. 1974
M. domestica Geotaxis 16 Vicariant Direct; divergent No Pre-zygotic Hurd & Eisenburg 1975
M. domestica Peripatric Yes Meffert & Bryant 1991
M. domestica Regan et al. 2003
Bactrocera cucurbitae Development time 40–51 Divergent Yes Pre-zygotic Miyatake & Shimizu 1999
Zea mays 6; 6 Reinforcement Direct; divergent Pre-zygotic Paterniani 1969
Drosophila grimshawi Peripatric Jones, Widemo, & Arrendal N/A
Saccharomyces cerevisiae Leu & Murry 2006
D. melanogaster Reinforcement Harper & Lambert 1983
Tribolium castaneum Pupal weight 15 (6) Disruptive Halliburton & Gall 1983
D. melanogaster Geotaxis Divergent Lofdahl et al. 1992
D. pseudoobscura [10 years] Moya et al. 1995
Neurospora Divergent Dettman et al. 2008
S. cerevisiae 500 Divergent Dettman et al. 2007
Sepsis cynipsea 35 Martin & Hosken 2003
D. melanogaster Wigby & Chapman 2006
D. pseudoobscura Sexual conflict 48–52 (4; 4; 4) Bacigalupe et al. 2007
D. serrata Rundle et al. 2005
Drosophila serrata & D. birchii Mate recognition 9 (3; 3) Reinforcement Natural Pre-zygotic Higgie et al. 2000
Enterobacteria phage λ Escherichia coli receptor exploitation 35 cycles (6) Vicariant, sympatric Pre-zygotic Meyer et al. 2016
Tetranychus urticae Resistance to host plant toxin Overmeer 1966
T. urticae Resistance to host plant toxin Fry 1999
Helianthus annus × H. petiolaris and H. anomalus Hybrid Rieseburg et al. 1996
S. cerevisiae Greig et al. 2002
D. melanogaster Life history Ghosh & Joshi 2012
Drosophila subobscura Mate behavior Bárbaro et al. 2015
Digital organisms ~42,000; ~850 (20) Ecological Post-zygotic Anderson & Harmon 2014
Schizosaccharomyces pombe Complete reproductive isolation Seike et al. 2015
D. pseudoobscura Courtship song 130 Debelle et al. 2014
Callosobruchus maculatus 40 (16) Debelle et al. 2010

See also


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Allopatric speciation


Experimental evolution

Founder effect

Hybrid speciation

Parapatric speciation

Peripatric speciation

Reinforcement (speciation)


Sympatric speciation

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