Published: Mon, November 27, 2017
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Researchers Say New Species Are Evolving at an Unbelievable Rate

Researchers Say New Species Are Evolving at an Unbelievable Rate

However, due to the unique circumstances and environment offered by this isolated archipelago, "Big Bird" proved to researchers that the evolution of a new species is possible in just two generations.

The observation was made by B Rosemary and Peter Grant, two scientists from the Princeton University in the US.

"It is very striking that when we compare the size and shape of the Big Bird beaks with the beak morphologies of the other three species inhabiting Daphne Major, the Big Birds occupy their own niche in the beak morphology space", says co-author Sangeet Lamichhaney.

"The novelty of this study is that we can follow the emergence of new species in the wild", B. Rosemary Grant, emeritus professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior research biologist, said.

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Researchers studying the population of finches on Daphne Major, a tiny Galapagos island, found that a population of birds here evolved into new species in a relatively short period of time.

And what makes this discovery even more interesting is that it was published on the eve of the anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's magnum opus titled "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life", which was released in 1859 and largely inspired by his time on the Galapagos Islands. Currently, there are about 30 birds belonging to the new species.

"We didn't see him fly in from over the sea, but we noticed him shortly after he arrived", recalls Peter Grant. The Grants' team paired up with Leif Andersson, a professor of Uppsala University, for the genetic analysis of the birds using blood samples.

In the current study, researchers analysed DNA collected from the parent birds and their offspring over the years. These new unnamed birds were called simply "Big Bird" because they were larger than the native species, and while it was odd on its own, nature had one more curve ball in store for researchers.

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New lineages like the Big Birds have originated many times during the evolution of Darwin's finches, the authors say. Instead, he settled on one of the three finch species on the island. When one misguided bird found himself in the same situation, he didn't wallow in his own self pity; he created his own entirely new species.

"We have no indication about the long-term survival of the Big Bird lineage, but it has the potential to become a success, and it provides a handsome example of one way in which speciation occurs".

However, he said if a group of individuals can keep mating among its own and keep a "competitive advantage" then the species will "keep on going".

"This is an exciting, but likely extremely rare event, which raises the question of what is the contribution of such events to the diversity of Darwins' finches or other species in general".

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"We have no indication about the long-term survival of the Big Bird lineage, but it has the potential to become a success, and it provides a lovely example of one way in which speciation occurs".

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