Deviation from panmixia via assortative mating and divergent habitat preferences
The speciation process is often viewed to start from panmictic populations. Understanding the evolutionary mechanisms that cause populations to deviate from panmixia is essential to understanding the initial stage of population divergence that may lead to speciation. My dissertation focuses on the evolution of two mechanisms that cause deviation from panmixia: assortative mating and divergent habitat preferences. The first chapter is a meta-analysis on published measures of the strength of assortative mating within natural animal populations. Results showed that deviation from panmixia via weak positive assortative mating was typical within natural animal populations, while disassortative mating was rare or absent. Results also suggested that assortative mating did not typically evolve adaptively, but instead as an incidental consequence of other mechanisms, such as spatial segregation. Divergent habitat uses are important drivers of spatial segregation. The second chapter revealed a behavioral mechanism of divergent habitat uses between parapatric lake and stream threespine stickleback populations. The results showed strong divergent rheotaxis between lake and stream fish during their breeding season. The divergence is likely to contribute to the sorting of lake and stream fish into their natal habitats and promote habitat-based assortative mating. The third chapter focused on the neuroanatomical and morphological mechanisms of rheotaxis. Results showed significant correlations between the numbers of neuromasts (functional units of the lateral line) and rheotaxis in both lab-reared and wild-caught threespine stickleback. Results also showed heritable divergence in lateral line structure between parapatric lake and stream stickleback, suggesting that divergent rheotaxis and the resulting divergent habitat uses are likely to have a heritable component. In summary, my dissertation revealed ultimate evolutionary mechanisms of assortative mating and proximate evolutionary mechanisms of divergent habitat uses. These results shed light on the understanding of the beginning of population divergence and ultimately speciation.