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Performance Trade-Offs and Resource Availability Drive Variation in Reproductive Isolation between Sympatrically Diverging Crossbills

Theoretical models indicate that speciation, especially when the scope for gene flow is great (e.g., sympatric speciation), is most likely when strong performance trade-offs coincide with reproduction. We tested this classic hypothesis using measures of the strength of three prezygotic reproductive isolating barriers (habitat isolation, reduced immigrant fecundity, and behavioral isolation) between two young (~2,000 years) and sympatric red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) ecotypes. All three isolating barriers increased with increases in performance trade-offs, with total reproductive isolation varying between 0.72 and 1 (0 represents random mating, and 1 represents complete reproductive isolation). Strong trade-offs led to strong habitat isolation, an inability to breed in the “wrong” habitat, and more assortative flocks, with the latter leading to stronger behavioral isolation. Reproductive isolation decreased as resource availability increased relative to the demands of breeding, with higher resource availabilities eliminating the positive relationship between reproductive isolation and performance trade-offs. This latter result is consistent with previous work suggesting that increasing resource abundance dampens the effect of strong performance trade-offs on evolutionary divergence. Because many organisms, with the notable exception of host-specific phytophagous insects, rely on abundant food resources with weak performance trade-offs while breeding, our results may explain why sympatric speciation is uncommon.