Genetic Coupling of Female Mate Choice with Polygenic Ecological Divergence Facilitates Stickleback Speciation
Ecological speciation with gene flow is widespread in nature , but it presents a conundrum: how are associations between traits under divergent natural selection and traits that contribute to assortative mating maintained? Theoretical models suggest that genetic mechanisms inhibiting free recombination between loci underlying these two types of traits (hereafter, "genetic coupling") can facilitate speciation [2–4]. Here, we perform a direct test for genetic coupling by mapping both divergent traits and female mate choice in a classic model of ecological speciation: sympatric benthic and limnetic threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). By measuring mate choice in F2 hybrid females, we allowed for recombination between loci underlying assortative mating and those under divergent ecological selection. In semi-natural mating arenas in which females had access to both benthic and limnetic males, we found that F2 females mated with males similar to themselves in body size and shape. In addition, we found two quantitative trait loci (QTLs) associated with female mate choice that also predicted female morphology along the benthic-limnetic trait axis. Furthermore, a polygenic genetic model that explains adaptation to contrasting benthic and limnetic feeding niches  also predicted F2 female mate choice. Together, these results provide empirical evidence that genetic coupling of assortative mating with traits under divergent ecological selection helps maintain species in the face of gene flow, despite a polygenic basis for adaptation to divergent environments.