Behavioral isolation and incipient speciation in birds

J. Albert C. Uy, Darren E. Irwin, Michael S. Webster

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Behavioral changes, such as those involved in mating, foraging, and migration, can generate reproductive barriers between populations. Birds, in particular, are known for their great diversity in these behaviors, and so behavioral isolation is often proposed to be the major driver of speciation. Here, we review empirical evidence to evaluate the importance of behavioral isolation in the early stages of avian speciation. Experimentally measured mating preferences indicate that changes in mating behavior can result in premating barriers, with their strength depending on the extent of divergence in mating signals. Differences in migratory and foraging behavior also can play important roles in generating reproductive barriers in the early stages of speciation. However, because premating behavioral isolation is imperfect, extrinsic postzygotic barriers, in the form of selection against hybrids having intermediate phenotypes, also play an important role in avian diversification, especially in completing the speciation process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - Nov 2 2018


  • assortative mating
  • behavioral isolation
  • ethological isolation
  • postzygotic isolation
  • premating isolation
  • speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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