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Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Report

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Biological diversity results from speciation, which generally involves the splitting of an ancestral species into descendant species due to adaptation to different niches or the evolution of reproductive incompatibilities (Coyne and Orr 2004). The diverse flora and fauna of the world, including the native inhabitants of the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA), exist as a result of the speciation process. The central role speciation plays in generating biological diversity imbues importance to our understanding of this process. The general importance of a thorough understanding of speciation is amplified because of the current high rates of extinction on the planet. This is because a long term solution to the present extinction crisis will require maintaining the processes that create species (speciation) not simply preventing extinction. However, many central questions regarding speciation remain to be answered. One fundamental question in speciation research is whether diverging species are isolated (i.e., prevented from interbreeding) due to differences in one, a few, or many characters and whether each of these character differences results from different alleles at a few or many genes. For example, speciation and reproductive isolation might involve divergence along multiple phenotypic axes, such as mate preference, habitat use or preference, and phenology (the timing of life-cycle events). Alternatively, isolation could result from differentiation of a single character. I propose to address this question by assessing patterns of variation for a suite of characters across a hybrid zone between two butterfly species. This is possible because patterns of character variation across hybrids zones allow for inferences about reproductive isolation (Barton and Hewitt 1985).