Different species can emerge in only two generations, new study reveals

“Charles Darwin would have been excited to read this paper.”

“Charles Darwin would have been excited to read this paper.”

Soon the bird made himself at home, and despite their differences, he was able to woo one member of the island's inhabitants. There, the bird mated with a member of a different species to give rise to the Big Bird lineage.

Nearly 40 years later, the progeny of that original mating are still being observed, and number around 30 individuals.

Finches on the Galapagos Islands represent many species, but are collectively known as "Darwin's finches".

"The novelty of this study is that we can follow the emergence of new species in the wild", said B. Rosemary Grant, a senior research biologist, emeritus, and a senior biologist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. They call it the Big Bird lineage.

"We didn't see him fly in from over the sea, but we noticed him shortly after he arrived". But in this case, all it took was a stranger bird and a lot of incestuous mating.

The researchers took a blood sample and released the bird, which later bred with a resident medium ground finch of the species Geospiz fortis, initiating a new lineage.

It is assumed that the process of evolution and the creation of new species take a long time but in the case of the Big Birds, researchers found that the new species was created just after two generations.

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

Because his home was so far away, he did not have the choice to go home.

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.

The team observed that the offspring ended up mating with members of their own lineage, as the Big Bird males were unable to attract resident females because they differed in their song as well as beak size and shape - some of the key traits that female finches look for in their mates.

However, they're not the first new species to form from hybridization. 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. Since then, they have diversified in the same way that the Big Birds did, and resulted in different species with different beak sizes and features, allowing them to utilize the different food sources with the other species. "Thus, the combination of gene variants contributed from the two interbreeding species in combination with natural selection led to the evolution of a beak morphology that was competitive and unique".

New lineages like the Big Birds have originated many times during the evolution of Darwin's finches, the authors say.

One of the most striking aspects of this study is that hybridization between two distinct species led to the development of a new lineage that after only two generations behaved as any other species of Darwin's finches, explained Leif Andersson, a professor at Uppsala University who is also affiliated with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Texas A&M University.

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