The acronym , major histocompatibility complex, is customarily not allied with topics in evolutionary biology. Here, however, we attempt to demonstrate that the has much to offer to this discipline and intimate that evolutionary biologists who ignore its contributions miss out on a chance of applying a new approach to vexing questions. One aspect of the in particular affords a fresh look at the population processes that transform one species into another: the trans-species polymorphism, the passage of allelic lineages from ancestral to descendant species. We provide examples of using the polymorphism in estimating the size of the founding population of new species, and of analyzing the long-term population demographies of phylogenetic lineages. We then extend the concept of trans-species polymorphism to other genes, even those not evolving under balancing selection, and argue that the phenomenon is widespread between closely related species. On the example of the cichlid fishes of Lake Victoria, we demonstrate how the concept changes the interpretation of this so-called “species flock.” We contend that the conclusions reached regarding the cichlid fishes apply also to other examples of adaptive radiation, for example that of Darwin's finches, and so provide new insights into the nature of speciation in general.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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