Speciation across the Tree of Life

Tania Hernández-Hernández, Elizabeth C. Miller, Cristian Román-Palacios, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Much of what we know about speciation comes from detailed studies of well-known model systems. Although there have been several important syntheses on speciation, few (if any) have explicitly compared speciation among major groups across the Tree of Life. Here, we synthesize and compare what is known about key aspects of speciation across taxa, including bacteria, protists, fungi, plants, and major animal groups. We focus on three main questions. Is allopatric speciation predominant across groups? How common is ecological divergence of sister species (a requirement for ecological speciation), and on what niche axes do species diverge in each group? What are the reproductive isolating barriers in each group? Our review suggests the following patterns. (i) Based on our survey and projected species numbers, the most frequent speciation process across the Tree of Life may be co-speciation between endosymbiotic bacteria and their insect hosts. (ii) Allopatric speciation appears to be present in all major groups, and may be the most common mode in both animals and plants, based on non-overlapping ranges of sister species. (iii) Full sympatry of sister species is also widespread, and may be more common in fungi than allopatry. (iv) Full sympatry of sister species is more common in some marine animals than in terrestrial and freshwater ones. (v) Ecological divergence of sister species is widespread in all groups, including ~70% of surveyed species pairs of plants and insects. (vi) Major axes of ecological divergence involve species interactions (e.g. host-switching) and habitat divergence. (vii) Prezygotic isolation appears to be generally more widespread and important than postzygotic isolation. (viii) Rates of diversification (and presumably speciation) are strikingly different across groups, with the fastest rates in plants, and successively slower rates in animals, fungi, and protists, with the slowest rates in prokaryotes. Overall, our study represents an initial step towards understanding general patterns in speciation across all organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1205-1242
Number of pages38
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • animals
  • bacteria
  • co-speciation
  • ecological speciation
  • fungi
  • plants
  • protists
  • speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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