Galapagos finch seen becoming new species

Main report: Galapagos finches caught in act of becoming new species
(BBC News)
Other Reporting: SciTech Daily, Newsweek
Scientific Paper: Science   
New Taxa: , Geospiza fortis X G. conirostris hybrid
Common Name: Big Bird lineage
Categories: Birds | Evolution | New Species | News in Nature
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A population of finches on the Galapagos has been discovered in the process of becoming a new species. In 1981, researchers noticed the arrival of a male of a non-native species on a tiny Galapagos island called Daphne Major.  They noticed that this male, a large cactus finch, proceeded to mate with a female of one of the local species, a medium ground finch, producing fertile young. The researchers then followed the entire population of finches on a tiny Galapagos island called Daphne Major, for thirty-six years, and so were able to watch the speciation in progress. 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.

By identifying one way that new species can arise, and following the entire population, the researchers state this as an example of speciation occurring in a timescale we can observe.  In most cases, the offspring of cross-species matings are poorly adapted to their environment.  But in this instance, the new finches on Daphne Major are larger than other species on the island, and have taken hold of new and unexploited food.  For this reason, the researchers are calling the animals the “Big Bird population”.  The researchers surmise that hybridisation can lead to speciation, simply through the addition of one individual to a population. It may therefore be a way for new traits to evolve quickly.   The big bird population example shows that reproductive isolation, which typically develops over hundreds of generations, can be established in only three.

See also another example of speciation in finches recently discovered: A potentially new species of finch has co-evolved with Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine (Dec 2016).

This is an image of the Big Bird lineage, which arose through the breeding of two distinct parent species: G. fortis and G. conirostris

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