In a world without natural selection and no vast mountain ranges dividing populations, one might expect biodiversity to remain forever stagnant. But according to a study published this week in Nature, new species can arise arbitrarily and without provocation, challenging the widely held notion that physical isolation and selection are the driving forces behind speciation.
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"So much of ecology and evolutionary biology is based on this idea of adaptive divergence leading to speciation," said evolutionary biology linkurl:Charles Goodnight; of the University of Vermont, who was not involved in the work. "What this [study] is saying is that speciation may just be a result of random processes." In 2001, linkurl:Stephen Hubbell; of the University of Georgia proposed the neutral theory of biodiversity, in which the patterns of biodiversity across the globe are explained largely by chance. The idea brought into question the traditional, niche-based view of ecological...

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