New bird species evolved in just two generations

New bird species evolved in just two generations

New bird species evolved in just two generations

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. His species was from Española island.

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. 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. Because he had no birds of his species to mate with on Daphne Major, he chose a mate from one of the native species.

Blood and DNA samples enabled researchers to discover that the odd new bird was actually a large cactus finch of the species Geospiza conirostris from Española island, more than 100 km (62.14 miles) away from Daphne Major. It was clear that the bird wasn't from Daphne Major, but its origins were unknown, so the scientists caught and tested the bird's blood before releasing him.

In an incredible story, one bird got lost at sea and ended up creating an entirely new species on a remote island in the Pacific, shocking the science community. These newly evolved specimens might soon start breeding with other of the three species, which might give rise to a new speciation process.

In the current study, researchers analysed DNA collected from the parent birds and their offspring over the years.

The Big Bird finch, product of inbreeding and rapid evolution. Cactus finches have bigger body and beak as compared to other finch species living on the island at the time. Because of this, they mated with their own 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 lovely example of one way in which speciation occurs", he says.

The original "lost" male was eventually identified as a cactus finch that had originated on a neighboring island over 60 miles away, but the new species is now an entirely unique animal.

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The offspring were also reproductively isolated as their song, used to attract mates, was unusual and failed to attract females from the resident 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".

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.

The majority of these lineages have gone extinct but some may have led to the evolution of contemporary species, they concluded.

"Charles Darwin would have been excited to read this paper".

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