Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 109–123 | Cite as

Reinforcement and learning

  • Maria R. Servedio
  • Stein A. Sæther
  • Glenn-Peter Sætre
Original Paper


Evidence has been accumulating to support the process of reinforcement as a potential mechanism in speciation. In many species, mate choice decisions are influenced by cultural factors, including learned mating preferences (sexual imprinting) or learned mate attraction signals (e.g., bird song). It has been postulated that learning can have a strong impact on the likelihood of speciation and perhaps on the process of reinforcement, but no models have explicitly considered learning in a reinforcement context. We review the evidence that suggests that learning may be involved in speciation and reinforcement, and present a model of reinforcement via learned preferences. We show that not only can reinforcement occur when preferences are learned by imprinting, but that such preferences can maintain species differences easily in comparison with both autosomal and sex-linked genetically inherited preferences. We highlight the need for more explicit study of the connection between the behavioral process of learning and the evolutionary process of reinforcement in natural systems.


Imprinting Learning Preferences Model Reinforcement Speciation 



The authors thank Rob Lachlan and Haven Wiley for discussion and Anders Brodin and an anonymous reviewer for comments on the paper. M.R.S. was funded by the National Science Foundation Grants DEB-0234849 and DEB-0614166 and was supported in this work by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), NSF #EF-0423641.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria R. Servedio
    • 1
  • Stein A. Sæther
    • 2
    • 3
  • Glenn-Peter Sætre
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)HeterenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre (EBC)Uppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  4. 4.Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of BiologyUniversity of OsloBlindernNorway

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