Speciation is the fundamental process that has generated the vast diversity of life on earth. The hallmark of speciation is the evolution of barriers to gene flow. These barriers may reduce gene flow either by keeping incipient species from hybridizing at all (pre-zygotic), or by reducing the fitness of hybrids (post-zygotic). To understand the genetic architecture of these barriers and how they evolve, I studied a genus of wasps that exhibits barriers to gene flow that act both pre- and post-zygotically. Nasonia is a genus of four species of parasitoid wasps that can be hybridized in the laboratory. When two of these species, N. vitripennis and N. giraulti are mated, their offspring suffer, depending on the generation and cross examined, up to 80% mortality during larval development due to incompatible genic interactions between their nuclear and mitochondrial genomes. These species also exhibit pre-zygotic isolation, meaning they are more likely to mate with their own species when given the choice. I examined these two species and their hybrids to determine the genetic and physiological bases of both speciation mechanisms and to understand the evolutionary forces leading to them. I present results that indicate that the oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) pathway, an essential pathway that is responsible for mitochondrial energy generation, is impaired in hybrids of these two species. These results indicate that this impairment is due to the unique evolutionary dynamics of the combined nuclear and mitochondrial origin of this pathway. I also present results showing that, as larvae, these hybrids experience retarded growth linked to the previously observed mortality and I explore possible physiological mechanisms for this. Finally, I show that the pre-mating isolation is due to a change in a single pheromone component in N. vitripennis males, that this change is under simple genetic control, and that it evolved neutrally before being co-opted as a species recognition signal. These results are an important addition to our overall understanding of the mechanisms of speciation and showcase Nasonia as an emerging model for the study of the genetics of speciation.
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