In trying to understand evolution better, I have been looking at examples of speciation, and have thus come across the topic of ring species. I have tried to find concrete examples of how these work, but have been unable to. This paper deals with one of the frequently quoted examples of ring species, but concludes:

In conclusion, although ring speciation is theoretically possible, the few well-studied examples suggest that it occurs infrequently, because the dynamics of species’ ranges are more likely to result in fragmentation, i.e. periods of allopatry, before the slow process of isolation by distance leads to sufficient divergence to allow for circular overlap.

The paper does, however, cite an article on a bird that appears to be a strong example of a ring species, but buying access to it is more expensive than a year´s supply of toilet paper.

Is there hard evidence that ring species exist? And if so, what is the evidence and what does it teach us about the nature of speciation?

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    $\begingroup$ Good question +1. I don't think there is very obvious examples of ring species. There are however, examples that are quite promising such as the greenish warblers (Irwin et al., 2005) and the polytypic salamander (Moritz et al., 1995). $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Oct 27 '18 at 23:02
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if I +1'd just for the toilet paper. $\endgroup$ – Armatus Oct 27 '18 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ Please confine your remarks about access to scientific works to whether or not you have this. If you do not have access, someone here may help you or you may try to help yourself by emailing the author and requesting a PDF. I personally do not have funds to pay for others to read my papers but I am happy to respond to individual requests for reprints, whether or not this is in technical contravention of the agreement with my publisher. $\endgroup$ – David Oct 28 '18 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ You can get a free download of the paper from here: [researchgate.net/publication/12128943_Speciation_in_a_ring]. Or email the author(s) and ask for a reprint. $\endgroup$ – S. McGrew Oct 30 '18 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ yes ring species do exist like the herring and lesser black-backed gulls in Northern Europe. $\endgroup$ – Skyler Mar 27 '20 at 22:58

While no perfect example exists, there are various different 'ring species' in nature where you have which species are able to interbreed with closely related populations, but there are least two "end" populations in the series. Examples include:

Alauda Gulgula

In central Asia, a northern form,, arvensis, a southern form,gulgula, and Oriental,japonica , coexist without interbreeding.These forms are separated by a gap in distribution in northern China, but a morphologically intermediate form, japonica, occurs in Japan. Northern japonica are similar to arvensis and southern japonica resemble gulgula. -Ring species as bridges between microevolution and speciation

Lalage leucopygialis

Lalage nigra

Lalage sueurii

The existence of ring species like this can, as biologist Ernst Mayr puts it, illustrate "how new species can arise through 'circular overlap', without interruption of gene flow through intervening populations…" and offers proof of speciation through a method other than allopatric speciation: speciation that happens when two populations of the same species become isolated from each other due to geographic changes.


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