Sex, Sperm and Speciation: On sexual selection and fertility in hybridizing flycatchers

  • Datum:
  • Plats: Zootissalen, Villavägen 9, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Ålund née Podevin, Murielle
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Zooekologi
  • Kontaktperson: Ålund née Podevin, Murielle
  • Disputation


Sexual reproduction entails complex co-evolution between the sexes, necessary for successful fertilization, ensuring individual and population-level fitness. Interfertility is the main criterion for species definition and understanding speciation requires detailed studies of reproductive barriers. However, many studies on reproductive barriers are constrained to infer evolutionary processes from patterns. In this thesis, I focus on a hybrid zone between collared and pied flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis and hypoleuca) on the island of Öland, and a trait that is essential for fertilization: sperm. Long-term monitoring of these species, combined with recent advances in molecular tools, allow me to study how complex on-going intersexual and interspecific interactions influence reproductive isolation in this young hybrid zone. I start by exploring the links between pre- and postmating sexual selection within collared flycatchers (paper I and II). I show that secondary sexual characters and indirect mate-choice benefits are tightly linked to physiology (paper I), and that a male’s attractiveness and dominance status dictate which sperm traits are optimal, as a male’s fertilization success depends on an interaction between sperm and display traits (paper II). I then report a source of strong postzygotic isolation between recently diverged collared and pied flycatchers: impaired spermatogenesis resulting in absence of mature sperm cells in hybrid males (paper III). I show however that pied flycatcher females, who are most exposed to hybridization, can mitigate these costs through mechanisms of cryptic female choice impairing heterospecific sperm performance, allowing them to bias paternity towards pure-species offspring (paper IV). Finally, by exploring the testes transcriptomes and sperm proteomes of both species, I highlight the importance of gene and protein regulation mechanisms in facilitating phenotypic divergence between these species (paper V). Thus, my thesis reveals complex interactions between primary and secondary sexual characters in a wild bird and suggests that mechanisms of sexual selection are tightly linked to essential physiological functions. I also show that genetic incompatibilities can evolve rapidly despite low genome-wide levels of divergence but that divergence in regulatory regions and proteins potentially allows fast evolution of molecular mechanisms impairing or preventing costly heterospecific fertilization.