Speciation in a ring
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The evolutionary divergence of a single species into two has never been directly observed in nature, primarily because speciation can take a long time to occur. A ring species, in which a chain of intergrading populations encircles a barrier and the terminal forms coexist without interbreeding, provides a situation in which variation in space can be used to infer variation in time(1-3). Here we reconstruct the pathway to speciation between two reproductively isolated forms of greenish warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides). These two taxa do not interbreed in central Siberia but are connected by a long chain of intergrading populations encircling the Tibetan Plateau to the south(4). Molecular data and climatic history imply that the reproductively isolated taxa came into contact following expansions northward around the western and eastern sides of the plateau. Parallel selection pressures for increased song complexity during the northward expansions have been accompanied by divergence in song structure. Playback experiments show that the two Siberian forms do not recognize each other's songs. Our results show how gradual divergence in a trait involved in mate choice leads to the formation of new species.