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Data from: The role of prezygotic isolation mechanisms in the divergence of two parasite species

Cite this dataset

Henrich, Tina; Kalbe, Martin (2016). Data from: The role of prezygotic isolation mechanisms in the divergence of two parasite species [Dataset]. Dryad.


Background: The formation of reproductive barriers in diverging lineages is a prerequisite to complete speciation according to the biological species concept. In parasites with complex life cycles, speciation may be driven by adaptation to different intermediate hosts, yet diverging lineages can still share the same definitive host where reproduction takes place. In these cases, prezygotic isolation mechanisms should evolve very early and be particularly strong, preventing costly unfavourable matings. In this study, we investigated the importance of prezygotic barriers to reproduction in two cestode species that diverged 20–25mya and show an extraordinary degree of specificity to different intermediate hosts. Both species share the same definitive hosts and hybridize in the laboratory. Yet, natural hybrids have so far not been detected. Methods: We used a combination of different experiments to investigate the role of prezygotic barriers to reproduction in the speciation of these parasites. First, we investigated whether hybridization is possible under natural conditions by exposing lab-reared herring gulls (Larus argentatus, the definitive hosts) to both parasites of either sympatric or allopatric combinations. In a second experiment, we tested whether the parasites prefer conspecifics over parasites from a different species in dichotomous mate choice trials. Results: Our results show that the two species hybridize under natural conditions with parasites originating either from sympatric or allopatric populations producing hybrid offspring. Surprisingly, the mate choice experiment indicated that both parasite species prefer mates of the different species to conspecifics. Conclusions: Neither fundamental constraints against hybridization in a natural host nor assortative mate choice sufficiently explain the persistent segregation of the two tapeworm species in nature. Hence, postzygotic ecological selection against hybrids is presumably the more important driving force limiting gene flow between the two parasite sister species.

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