Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Sexual and postmating reproductive isolation between allopatric Drosophila montana populations suggest speciation potential

Jackson H Jennings1*, Dominique Mazzi12, Michael G Ritchie3 and Anneli Hoikkala1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre of Excellence in Evolutionary Research, Department of Biological and Environmental Science, P.O. Box 35, 40014 University of Jyväskylä, Finland

2 ETH Zurich, Institute of Plant, Animal and Agroecosystem Sciences, Applied Entomology, Schmelzbergstrasse 9, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland

3 Dyers Brae House, School of Biology, University of St. Andrews, KY16 9TH, Scotland, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:68  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-68

Published: 14 March 2011



Widely distributed species with populations adapted to different environmental conditions can provide valuable opportunities for tracing the onset of reproductive incompatibilities and their role in the speciation process. Drosophila montana, a D. virilis group species found in high latitude boreal forests in Nearctic and Palearctic regions around the globe, could be an excellent model system for studying the early stages of speciation, as a wealth of information concerning this species' ecology, mating system, life history, genetics and phylogeography is available. However, reproductive barriers between populations have hereto not been investigated.


We report both pre- and postmating barriers to reproduction between flies from European (Finnish) and North American (Canadian) populations of Drosophila montana. Using a series of mate-choice designs, we show that flies from these two populations mate assortatively (i.e., exhibit significant sexual isolation) while emphasizing the importance of experimental design in these kinds of studies. We also assessed potential postmating isolation by quantifying egg and progeny production in intra- and interpopulation crosses and show a significant one-way reduction in progeny production, affecting both male and female offspring equally.


We provide evidence that allopatric D. montana populations exhibit reproductive isolation and we discuss the potential mechanisms involved. Our data emphasize the importance of experimental design in studies on premating isolation between recently diverged taxa and suggest that postmating barriers may be due to postcopulatory-prezygotic mechanisms. D. montana populations seem to be evolving multiple barriers to gene flow in allopatry and our study lays the groundwork for future investigations of the genetic and phenotypic mechanisms underlying these barriers.