Background: Divergence driven by female preference can give rise to pre-mating isolation more rapidly than post-mating isolation can evolve through the accumulation of allelic incompatibilities. Moreover pre-mating isolation may be more effective at maintaining morphological differentiation between divergent populations. In the context of Australian rainforest endemic skinks that were historically subjected to refugial isolation, this study examined the following predictions: 1) that assortative female preference is associated with more recent divergence of southern C. rubrigularis (S-RED) and C. rhomboidalis (BLUE), but not with deeply divergent S-RED and northern C. rubrigularis (N-RED); and 2) that upon secondary contact, morphological differentiation is maintained between S-RED and BLUE, whereas N-RED and S-RED remain morphogically indistinguishable.
Principal Findings: Female preference trials found no evidence for assortative female preference between N-RED and S-RED, supporting a previous genetic hybrid zone study which inferred post-mating but no pre-mating isolation. In contrast there is evidence for assortative female preference between S-RED and BLUE, with BLUE females preferring to associate with BLUE males, but S-RED females showing no preference. Multi-locus coalescent analyses, used to estimate post-divergence gene-flow between proximally located S-RED and BLUE populations, rejected zero gene-flow from BLUE to S-RED and thus RED and BLUE have maintained morphological differentiation despite secondary contact. Morphometric analyses confirmed a lack of morphological divergence between N-RED and S-RED and established that BLUE is morphologically divergent from RED in traits other than throat colour.
Conclusions/Significance: Long-term isolation has been sufficient to generate post-mating isolation but no morphological divergence between N-RED and S-RED. In contrast, greater morphological differentiation is associated with evidence for assortative female preference between more recently diverged S-RED and BLUE. Combined with previous estimates of lineage-wide gene flow, these results are consistent with the suggestion that assortative female preference is more effective than post-mating isolation in maintaining morphological differentiation between divergent populations.