Researchers Say New Species Are Evolving at an Unbelievable Rate

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.

Around 36 years ago, a unusual bird arrived on one of the Galapagos islands.

Researchers at Princeton University and the University of Uppsala have been studying the finches on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean for decades.

Nearly 40 years ago, a graduate student working with the researchers noticed a male bird that was much larger in body and beak size than the species that were known natives on Daphne Major. They tracked this lineage - which they dubbed the "Big Bird" lineage - for six generations, regularly taking blood samples for use in genetic analysis.

Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos on HMS Beagle in 1835 and collected a dozen species of finch that he realised had evolved from a bird on the South American mainland.

"The novelty of this study is that we can follow the emergence of new species in the wild", said B. Rosemary Grant, a senior research biologist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton. 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.

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Researchers believe that this kind of development has happened among Darwin's finches many times during the course of the species' evolution, though a majority of such lineages have since gone extinct. "He was so different from the other birds that we knew he did not hatch from an egg on Daphne Major", said Peter Grant.

The original breeding pair's offspring were unable to persuade other species to mate with them so bred between themselves.

New lineages like the Big Birds have originated many times during the evolution of Darwin's finches, the authors say.

However, when these Big Birds reached maturity they couldn't find mates because they couldn't repeat the song of the native finches; they were also different in size and that prevented them from attracting partners.

Ironically, the discovery 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. This happened because the cactus finch couldn't fly the long distance back home, so was forced to pick a mate from one of the Daphne Major bird species instead of his own.

Professor Leif Andersson, of Uppsala University, added: "A naturalist who came to Daphne Major without knowing that this lineage arose very recently would have recognized this lineage as one of the four species on the island".

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