Human-caused habitat fragmentation can drive rapid divergence of male genitalia

Justa L. Heinen-Kay, Holly G. Noel, Craig A. Layman, R. Brian Langerhans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The aim of this study rests on three premises: (i) humans are altering ecosystems worldwide, (ii) environmental variation often influences the strength and nature of sexual selection, and (iii) sexual selection is largely responsible for rapid and divergent evolution of male genitalia. While each of these assertions has strong empirical support, no study has yet investigated their logical conclusion that human impacts on the environment might commonly drive rapid diversification of male genital morphology. We tested whether anthropogenic habitat fragmentation has resulted in rapid changes in the size, allometry, shape, and meristics of male genitalia in three native species of livebearing fishes (genus: Gambusia) inhabiting tidal creeks across six Bahamian islands. We found that genital shape and allometry consistently and repeatedly diverged in fragmented systems across all species and islands. Using a model selection framework, we identified three ecological consequences of fragmentation that apparently underlie observed morphological patterns: decreased predatory fish density, increased conspecific density, and reduced salinity. Our results demonstrate that human modifications to the environment can drive rapid and predictable divergence in male genitalia. Given the ubiquity of anthropogenic impacts on the environment, future research should evaluate the generality of our findings and potential consequences for reproductive isolation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1252-1267
Number of pages16
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Authors. Evolutionary Applications published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Anthropogenic environmental change
  • Genital evolution
  • Gonopodium
  • Human-induced phenotypic change
  • Natural selection
  • Poeciliidae
  • Sexual selection


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