Allopatric Speciation: Example & Definition

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  • 0:05 How Allopatric…
  • 0:33 What Is Allopatric Speciation
  • 1:15 Examples of Allopatric…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Skwarecki
If a continent splits, or a mountain range rises, one population can become two, and eventually the two populations may not be able to interbreed. Discover how species can split off from each other when they are separated.

How Allopatric Speciation Can Happen

Let's say you admire my breeding colony of fruit flies so much that you beg me to give you a vial. In the lab, fruit flies live in little bottles, with fly food at the bottom. You take your flies home, and over time, they have babies, and their babies have babies, and so on.

After several generations, you notice that your flies look a little different than mine. If the flies are separated for a long enough time, they might be so different that they'd be considered a different species.

What Is Allopatric Speciation?

When one species splits to form two, it's called speciation. In animals, we say two individuals are different species if they can't interbreed with each other. Sometimes this can happen when two sub-populations are separated. Continents can drift apart, migrating birds can be blown off course, or fruit flies can be bred in different labs.

Allopatric speciation is speciation that occurs because populations live in different places. This is different from sympatric speciation, where the two populations might live in the same place but have some other reason why they can't interbreed.

Examples of Allopatric Speciation

The Isthmus of Panama, a tiny strip of land joining North and South America, is fairly young in geological terms: it's only three million years old. Before the isthmus existed, there was just ocean in that area, and that ocean included 15 species of snapping shrimp. Today, there are 15 species of shrimp on one side of the isthmus, and 15 different species on the other side, which we call their sister species.

In a single population of shrimp (before the isthmus), a mutation that arose in one individual could eventually spread through the whole population as the shrimp mated with each other. But once there is a barrier splitting the population in half, a new mutation can spread through half the population. That's why a lack of interbreeding means the two populations evolve separately.

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