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The role of sexual selection as a driver of speciation remains unresolved, not least because we lack a clear empirical understanding of its influence on different phases of the speciation process. Here, using data from 1306 recent avian speciation events, we show that plumage dichromatism (a proxy for sexual selection) does not predict diversification rates, but instead explains the rate at which young lineages achieve geographical range overlap. Importantly, this effect is only significant when range overlap is narrow (< 20%). These findings are consistent with a 'differential fusion' model wherein sexual selection reduces rates of fusion among lineages undergoing secondary contact, facilitating parapatry or limited co-existence, whereas more extensive sympatry is contingent on additional factors such as ecological differentiation. Our results provide a more mechanistic explanation for why sexual selection appears to drive early stages of speciation while playing a seemingly limited role in determining broad-scale patterns of diversification.

Original publication




Journal article


Ecol Lett

Publication Date





863 - 871


Differential fusion, plumage dichromatism, sexual selection, speciation, species co-existence, sympatry, Animals, Birds, Ecology, Genetic Speciation, Geography, Sympatry