December 17, 2017

New species of finch evolved on Galapagos Islands in just two generations

27 November 2017, 03:52 | Rodolfo Wallace

One of the Big Bird species of finch on the Galapagos archipelago

One of the Big Bird species of finch on the Galapagos archipelago

An island of the Galapagos archipelago is home to a brand new species which provides direct evidence that a species can develop from two other species in as little as two generations.

The researchers have named this new species of finches "Big Bird", as they are much bigger than other species of Daphne Major.

Professors Rosemary and Peter Grant of Princeton University collaborated with Prof Leif Andersson of Sweden's Uppsala University to genetically analyze the mixed-species population, and published their findings in Science journal on November 23.

A study published on Thursday in the journal Science reported on formation of a new bird species on the Ecuadorean Galápagos Islands. When they noticed a odd bird with a largish beak and unusual song on Daphne Major, therefore, they knew immediately it was not one of the three finch species native to the place.

"We didnt see him fly in from over the sea, but we noticed him shortly after he arrived".

Scientists note that in 1981, a male large cactus finch that is believed to have come from the nearby island of Espanola, mated with a native finch on Daphne Major and produced offspring.

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The researchers involved in this study have noted that such remarkable and fast evolution was made possible by reproductive isolation, which is a critical step in the creation of a new species from interbreeding of two separate species. Luis De León, an evolutionary biologist at University of Massachusetts, Boston, told The Register: "The authors have combined the wealth of historical data collected by Peter and Rosemary Grant in [the] last 40 years with modern genetic data from the genomic era". Instead, he settled on one of the three finch species on the island. They have confirmed that this new lineage of finches is essentially a new hybrid species.

The researchers say a striking aspect is that after just two generations, the new lineage behaved as any other species of Darwin's finches would.

Even more remarkably, hybrid species have been long believed to be sterile, meaning that they are unable to reproduce and become a viable species, however this observation demonstrates that it is possible. Recently, scientists have discovered a new species of mice which are immune to Warfarin, a common poison used to kill these creatures.

He adds that a naturalist visiting Great Daphne today and unaware of the Big Birds' history would have no reason to think the species was anything but ancient and firmly rooted on the island.

"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 attractive example of one way in which speciation occurs".

A team of researchers caught a glimpse of a unique event which occurred for the first time in 150 years, since Charles Darwin wrote its theory of evolution.

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