Understanding biodiversity through adaptive radiations

Thu, Mar 24, 2022, 12:30 pm

In the “Origin of Species” Charles Darwin established the scientific basis for understanding how evolution occurs by natural selection. To explain how new species form he envisioned a three-step process involving colonization of a new area, divergence through natural selection, and the formation of a barrier to interbreeding between divergent lineages. The challenge for us is the same as the challenge for Darwin, to reconstruct evolutionary history and interpret it. A productive strategy to address the challenge is to combine the fields of genetics, ecology, behavior, and genomics in laboratory and field investigations. We illustrate how this research program can be carried out with our research on the adaptive radiation of Darwin’s finches in the Galápagos archipelago. Eighteen species diverged morphologically and ecologically from a common ancestor in the last 1-2 million years. Our 40-year study on Daphne Major Island, combined with genomic research with collaborators, has shown that (1) species evolve in beak traits and body size when the environment changes, (2) competitors are an important part of their environment, (3) species occasionally exchange genes by hybridizing, and (4) hybridization can lead to the formation of a new genetic lineage, on the way to becoming a new species.

Guyot 10/Virtual
Open to public

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