Galapagos finches observed becoming new species

Researchers following the population of finches on a small Galapagos island have discovered them in the process of becoming a new species.
By Paul Pate | Nov 28, 2017
Researchers following the population of finches on a small Galapagos island have discovered them in the process of becoming a new species, according to report by BBC News.

The study is published in the journal Science.

Charles Darwin revealed the process of evolution by natural selection by studying the group of finch species in the Galapagos, collectively known as Darwin's finches.

Researchers, who have been tracking Darwin's finches for many years, noticed the arrival in 1981 of a non-native species, called the large cactus finch. This male mated with a local species, a medium ground finch, and produced fertile offspring.

Forty years later, the descendants of the original mating number about 30 birds.

"It's an extreme case of something we're coming to realize more generally over the years," said Prof. Rogen Butlin, a speciation expert not involved in the study, in the BBC News report. "Evolution in general can happen very quickly."

The new "big bird" population differs sufficiently in morphology and habits to native Galapagos finches to be labeled a new species and birds from the different populations do not interbreed.

Co-authors Peter and Rosemary Grant teamed up with Prof. Leif Andersson of Uppsala University in Sweden to confirm that the new finch population is genetically distinct.

"We tend not to argue about what defines a species anymore, because that doesn't get you anywhere," Butlin said, adding, "If you just wait for mutations causing one change at a time, then it would make it more difficult to raise a new species that way. But hybridization may be more effective than mutation."

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