Mechanisms of assortative mating in speciation with gene flow: Connecting theory and empirical research

Michael Kopp, Maria R. Servedio, Tamra C. Mendelson, Rebecca J. Safran, Rafael L. Rodríguez, Mark E. Hauber, Elizabeth C. Scordato, Laurel B. Symes, Christopher N. Balakrishnan, David M. Zonana, G. Sander Van Doorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The large body of theory on speciation with gene flow has brought to light fundamental differences in the effects of two types of mating rules on speciation: preference/trait rules, in which divergence in both (female) preferences and (male) mating traits is necessary for assortment, and matching rules, in which individuals mate with like individuals on the basis of the presence of traits or alleles that they have in common. These rules can emerge from a variety of behavioral or other mechanisms in ways that are not always obvious. We discuss the theoretical properties of both types of rules and explain why speciation is generally thought to be more likely under matching rather than preference/trait rules. We furthermore discuss whether specific assortative mating mechanisms fall under a preference/trait or matching rule, present empirical evidence for these mechanisms, and propose empirical tests that could distinguish between them. The synthesis of the theoretical literature on these assortative mating rules with empirical studies of the mechanisms by which they act can provide important insights into the occurrence of speciation with gene flow. Finally, by providing a clear framework we hope to inspire greater alignment in the ways that both theoreticians and empiricists study mating rules and how these rules affect speciation through maintaining or eroding barriers to gene flow among closely related species or populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • Assortative mating
  • Imprinting
  • Mating preferences
  • Self-referent phenotype matching
  • Sexual selection
  • Speciation with gene flow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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