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International Journal of Ecology
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 508458, 11 pages
Review Article

From Local Adaptation to Speciation: Specialization and Reinforcement

CEFE-UMR 5175, 1919 Route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France

Received 29 July 2011; Revised 21 November 2011; Accepted 12 December 2011

Academic Editor: Marianne Elias

Copyright © 2012 Thomas Lenormand. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Local adaptation is the first step in the process of ecological speciation. It is, however, an unstable and dynamic situation. It can be strengthened by the occurrence of alleles more specialized to the different habitats or vanish if generalist alleles arise by mutations and increase in frequency. This process can have complicated dynamics as specialist alleles may be much more common and may maintain local adaptation for a long time. Thus, even in the absence of an absolute fitness tradeoff between habitats, local adaptation may persist a long time before vanishing. Furthermore, several feedback loops can help to maintain it (the reinforcement, demographic, and recombination loops). This reinforcement can occur by modifying one of the three fundamental steps in a sexual life cycle (dispersal, syngamy, meiosis), which promotes genetic clustering by causing specific genetic associations. Distinguishing these mechanisms complements the one- versus two-allele classification. Overall, the relative rates of the two processes (specialization and reinforcement) dictate whether ecological speciation will occur.