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Researchers report rapid formation of new bird species in Galápagos islands
27 November 2017, 03:49 | Todd Saunders
Bird gets lost at sea, accidentally spawns an entire new species on a remote island
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.
After decades of hybridisation, a group of finches on the Daphne Major island in the Galapagos Island chain developed closed breeding. "He was so different from the other birds that we knew he did not hatch from an egg on Daphne Major", said Peter Grant, an emeritus professor of zoology along with ecology and evolutionary biology.
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 the findings were published in journal "Science".
The new species of Darwins finch was observed during field work carried out over the last four decades by B Rosemary and Peter Grant, two scientists from the Princeton University in the USA, on the small island of Daphne Major.
In the latest study, researchers from Uppsala University studied DNA collected from the parent birds and their offspring at regular intervals. These new unnamed birds were called simply "Big Bird" because they were larger than the native species, and while it was unusual on its own, nature had one more curve ball in store for researchers. That resulted in offspring that was a mix of two birds.
Now, there are four species of finches which are native on Daphne Major.
They also differed from the resident species in beak size and shape, which is a major cue for mate choice. 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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While looking at the bird populations on Daphne Major, one of the Galapagos Islands, scientists noticed one species which slowly turned into a different one.
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.
"This clearly demonstrates the value of long-running field studies".
So, while it was previously believed that it would take hundreds of generations to bring about a new species, this example shows that it can happen just two generations after two separate species breed in nature.
"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. Charles Darwin would have been excited to read this paper". Cactus finches have bigger body and beak as compared to other finch species living on the island at the time.
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.
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