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Birdsong and the Environment: How to Speed Up Evolution

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The astonishing biodiversity found in tropical regions is the result of natural selection and speciation. In order for speciation to occur, reproductive isolation is needed, which is thought to occur most commonly when populations become isolated by a physical barrier, such as a mountain range or a large river system, preventing populations on either side from interbreeding. However, evidence is accumulating that speciation can occur in the absence of a physical barrier despite ongoing gene-flow between subpopulations of a species. This could happen either due to strong environment-based natural selection across ecological gradients or as a result of changes in behavioural traits which prevent adjacent groups from recognizing each other as the same species, thus resulting in a pre-mating barrier to gene-flow. In this seminar, I will present some results from my studies in which I have used a combination of genetic, behavioural and ecological studies to test hypotheses regarding speciation in the tropics and to determine whether or not the process of speciation can indeed be influenced by the environment.

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