Galapagos finches caught in act of becoming new species

Galapagos finches caught in act of becoming new species

Dr Rosemary Grant said: "Through our work on Daphne Major, we were able to observe the pairing up of two birds from different species and then follow what happened to see how speciation occurred".

"We didn't see him fly in from over the sea, but we noticed him shortly after he arrived", said Peter Grant, also from Princeton.

"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", said Sangeet Lamichhaney, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the first author on the study.

The graduate student was on the Galapagos island called Daphne Major when he noticed the bird. This lineage has been determined to be a new species.

This new finch population is sufficiently different in form and habits to the native birds, as to be marked out as a new species, and individuals from the different populations don't interbreed.

The researchers took a blood sample before releasing the bird, which later went on to breed with a native ground finch, initiating a new lineage.

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. They tracked this lineage - which they dubbed the "Big Bird" lineage - for six generations, regularly taking blood samples for use in genetic analysis. He mated with females of other species, and emerged from this Union the Chicks turned out to be fertile, in other words, capable of reproduction, which is unusual for hybrids.

For this reason, the researchers are calling the animals the "Big Bird population". 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. Researchers found that evolution of the new species developed in just two generations. Now, researchers have discovered how quickly they can evolve into a new species: with the help of an outside bird, a new species can develop in as little as two generations.

Zoologists observed as between finches occurred interspecific hybridization - the process of crossing two different species with a further appearance of the descendants. What they did manage to attract was each other, and interbreeding resulted in more and more Big Birds on the island. Instead, he settled on one of the three finch species on the island. But in more recent years, it has been established that many birds and other animals that we consider to be unique species are in fact able to interbreed with others to produce fertile young. "This clearly demonstrates the value of long-running field studies", he said.

The researchers think that the original male must have flown 65 miles from the large cactus finches' home island of Española. Most of these will have gone extinct, but some may have led to the evolution of contemporary species.

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