Sex and the emergence of species

Harris Bernstein, Henry C. Byerly, Frederic A. Hopf, Richard E. Michod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


We argue that the existence of species as distinct and relatively homogeneous groupings of individuals is a consequence of the nonlinear dynamics inherent in sexual reproduction. This approach provides an answer to two interrelated problems which Darwin posed and tried to solve. Why are there missing links (i.e. gaps) between species in habitat space, and why are there missing links between species in time as evidenced in the fossil record? A crucial difference between outcrossing sexual organisms (i.e. organisms in which mating is between different individuals) and obligate selfers or parthenogens lies in the dynamic of the underlying replication process. Replication is a linear function of density for obligate selfers or parthenogens but nonlinear for outcrossing sexuals. The nonlinearity stems from the simple fact that with outcrossing, two individuals must come together to mate. We argue that this fact leads to density dependent fitness (per capita rate of increase) with an intrinsic disadvantage of low population density. This cost of rarity results in a distribution of distinct species. By establishing the causal connections in evolution between outcrossing sex and the very existence of species as distinct collections of organisms, our account lends theoretical support to a unitary concept of species with interbreeding as the fundamental defining property.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)665-690
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 21 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


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