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Types of Speciation

Speciation can take place in two general ways. A single species may change over time into a new form that is different enough to be considered a new species. This process is known as anagenesis. More commonly, a species may become split into two groups that no longer share the same gene pool. This process is known as cladogenesis. There are several ways in which anagenesis and cladogenesis may take place. In all cases, reproductive isolation occurs.

Sympatric Speciation

Sympatric speciation occurs when populations of a species that share the same habitat become reproductively isolated from each other. This speciation phenomenon most commonly occurs through polyploidy, in which an offspring or group of offspring will be produced with twice the normal number of chromosomes. Where a normal individual has two copies of each chromosome (diploidy), these offspring may have four copies (tetraploidy). A tetraploid individual cannot mate with a diploid individual, creating reproductive isolation.

Sympatric speciation is rare. It occurs more often among plants than animals, since it is so much easier for plants to self-fertilize than it is for animals. A tetraploidy plant can fertilize itself and create offspring. For a tetraploidy animal to reproduce, it must find another animal of the same species but of opposite sex that has also randomly undergone polyploidy.

Allopatric Speciation

Allopatric speciation, the most common form of speciation, occurs when populations of a species become geographically isolated. When populations become separated, gene flow between them ceases. Over time, the populations may become genetically different in response to the natural selection imposed by their different environments. If the populations are relatively small, they may experience a founder effect: the populations may have contained different allelic frequencies when they were separated. Selection and genetic drift will act differently on these two different genetic backgrounds, creating genetic differences between the two new species.

Parapatric Speciation

Parapatric speciation is extremely rare. It occurs when populations are separated not by a geographical barrier, such as a body of water, but by an extreme change in habitat. While populations in these areas may interbreed, they often develop distinct characteristics and lifestyles. Reproductive isolation in these cases is not geographic but rather temporal or behavioral. For example, plants that live on boundaries between very distinct climates may flower at different times in response to their different environments, making them unable to interbreed.