Scientists witness Galapagos finches evolve into new species

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Research staff of Princeton University observed the appearance of a new species of vertebrates in the wild. The distant setting has permitted the researchers to examine the evolution of variety due to natural selection.

New species can develop in as little as two generations, according to four decades of fieldwork conducted on the Galápagos Islands. Darwin famously spent time studying the unique animal species there.

In the latest study, researchers from Uppsala University studied DNA collected from the parent birds and their offspring at regular intervals. So, Daphne was the male of one species, typical of other Islands and are significantly different from local birds. This generative segregation is thought to be a crucial step in the evolution of new species.

The advent 36 years ago of a peculiar bird to a distant island in the Galapagos archipelago has offered undeviating genetic proof of a new method in which new species evolves.

When a single male finch from a different species known as the large cactus finch arrived at the island in 1981, it proceeded to mate with one of the native finches, a medium ground finch, and produced offspring. Unlike their father, the male offspring were unable to attract females from other species due to the fact that their song was especially unusual and their beaks were odd sizes and shapes.

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"The surprise was that we would expect the hybrid would start to breed with one of the other species on the island and be absorbed", Andersson told the BBC. What they did manage to attract was each other, and interbreeding resulted in more and more Big Birds on the island. A critical requirement for speciation to occur through hybridization of two distinct species is that the new lineage must be ecologically competitive - that is, good at competing for food and other resources with the other species - and this has been the case for the Big Bird lineage.

It used to be believed that two different species are unable to produce fertile offspring. "We have confirmed that they are a closed breeding group". That species now has 30 members, according to a study published in Science.

The graduate student was on the Galapagos island called Daphne Major when he noticed the bird.

"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", said Leif Andersson, a professor at Uppsala University. "This clearly demonstrates the value of long-running field studies", he said. Most of these will have gone extinct, but some may have led to the evolution of contemporary 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", said Andersson. "Charles Darwin would have been excited to read this paper".

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