Unlocking the secrets of evolution Scientific debate surrounds the question whether new species can form without a population first being divided by some form of barrier, such as a river or mountain. Furthermore, can sufficient differences evolve among individuals within a single population to produce two new species? Climate Change and Environment © Shutterstock The phenomenon, known as sympatric speciation, may be the process behind the origins of closely related sister species of cichlid fish in some African lakes, fruit flies, and island palms. The 2Models project has tested competing scenarios to explain the emergence of two palm species found on the remote Lord Howe Island in the Pacific. The models developed during the project can help scientists understand the processes that promote or obstruct sympatric speciation. Lord Howe Island lies between Australia and New Zealand and boasts a unique flora and fauna. Scientists obtained data from 400 adult trees, collected palm material and set up a seed transplant experiment. An experimental procedure has been drawn up for estimating pollen and seed dispersal for each palm species. A database has also been established that contains the position of all adult trees of the two sister species, together with information about the soil type on which they grow across the whole island. One species, Howea belmoreana is found only on volcanic soils, while the other species, Howea forsteriana is found on both volcanic and calcareous soils. Data collected during field trips to the island have been used to build a model based on a fast calculation algorithm. The model now includes components that help explain the evolution of flowering times and the transfer of genes through pollen and seed dispersal. Research conducted by the 2Models project will help provide testable hypotheses for understanding the processes leading to sympatric speciation in flowering plants. The work will help the EU become a world leader in this important scientific field.