Research Article

Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 231-241

First online:

Signal Divergence is Correlated with Genetic Distance and not Environmental Differences in Darters (Percidae: Etheostoma)

  • Michael David MartinAffiliated withBiological Sciences, University of Maryland Baltimore County Email author 
  • , Tamra C. MendelsonAffiliated withBiological Sciences, University of Maryland Baltimore County

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Speciation research focuses on the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for the origin of species, and recent treatments have distinguished ecological and mutation-order speciation as distinct evolutionary processes. Using a research framework that considers ‘speciation phenotypes’ (sensu Shaw and Mullen in Genet 139(5):649–661, 2011) and a modified hierarchy of speciation models, we address whether speciation in benthic fishes commonly called darters proceeds under divergent ecological selection or a mutation-order process. We examined neutral genetic divergence, sexual signal (male color) divergence, environmental differences, and geographic distance in 66 species pair comparisons. Modified Mantel tests detected significant relationships between genetic distance and overall male color differences, as well as geographic distance and overall male color differences; however, after accounting for the correlation of male color and geographic distance with genetic distance using a partial Mantel test, no relationship was observed between male color and geographic distance. Neither microhabitat nor climatic measures of environmental differences correlated with overall male color differences. Color difference scores for discrete color categories (i.e., red/orange/yellow, black, and blue/green) differed in their correlations with explanatory variables, implying different selection regimes may be influencing each component of darter color patterns. Our results do not support a primary role for divergent ecological selection shaping early divergence of darter sexual signals. Instead, a model of mutation-order speciation may best explain the clock-like manner of changes in male color among darter species.


Speciation phenotype Ecological speciation Mutation-order Sexual signal Etheostoma