Theory predicts that sexual (or behavioral) isolation will be the first form of reproductive isolation to evolve in lineages characterized by sexual selection. Here I directly compare the rate of evolution of sexual isolation with that of hybrid inviability in a diverse and sexually dimorphic genus of freshwater fish. The magnitude of both sexual isolation and hybrid inviability were quantified for multiple pairs of allopatric species. Rates of evolution were inferred by comparing genetic distances of these species pairs with the magnitude of each form of reproductive isolation: the slope of the regression of genetic distance on the magnitude of reproductive isolation represents the rate of evolution. Of the two forms of isolation, the magnitude of sexual isolation exhibited the steeper slope of regression, indicating that sexual isolation will tend to evolve to completion earlier than hybrid inviability, strictly as a by-product of evolution in geographically isolated populations. Additional evidence from the literature is used to qualitatively compare rates of evolution of sexual isolation with that of other forms of reproductive isolation. Preliminary comparisons support the prediction that sexual isolation will evolve more rapidly than other forms. Because Etheostoma is characterized by striking sexual dimorphism, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that sexual selection for exaggerated mate-recognition characters causes the relatively rapid evolution of sexual isolation.
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