Quantification of Reproductive Isolating Barriers Between Two Naturally Hybridizing Killifish Species

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Understanding the relative importance of various reproductive barriers to the early stages of speciation is an essential question in evolutionary biology. The closely related killifishes Fundulus heteroclitus and F. grandis occasionally hybridize in a small region in coastal Northeastern Florida showing that while barriers to reproduction exist, they are incomplete. The objective of this study was to elucidate barriers to reproduction between F. heteroclitus and F. grandis in the lab, as well as to quantify their strengths and relative contributions to reproductive isolation. Pre-zygotic (mating and fertilization) and post-zygotic (hatching) barriers were investigated by performing a variety of choice and no-choice laboratory mating experiments. Under no-choice conditions, barriers to mating had the greatest influence on hybrid production in F. grandis, whereas hatching barriers contributed to the majority of reproductive isolation in F. heteroclitus. Under choice conditions, however, pre-zygotic barriers had the greatest influence on hybrid production in both species. The total reproductive isolation that was observed in females of each species was stronger in F. heteroclitus than in F. grandis, and was nearly complete in F. heteroclitus females under choice conditions and was of moderate strength in F. grandis females. These results reveal an asymmetry in the potential gene flow between these two species, with F. grandis being more likely to hybridize than F. heteroclitus in the absence of environmental influences. No-choice backcrosses were also conducted and showed that at least some F1 hybrids are fertile. The observation that pre-zygotic barriers tend to be stronger than post-zygotic barriers in the early stages of speciation is consistent with similar studies in other organisms.

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Evolutionary Biology





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