Some Recent Studies on Fast Speciation

Lake Constance Sticklebacks

Even when I was more active in the field (lo these many years ago) there were many unexplained things about genetics and evolution. But we didn’t have the technologies to look at specific changes. Here are a few recent stories that you might not have seen (shout-out to New Scientist magazine!). I am not saying that we shouldn’t try to protect genetic and species diversity. But genetic variation is constantly being produced as the environment changes, and the argument that evolution is too slow to replace it.. may not be up with some current scientific findings. The best summary is this article from CBC.

Fast Sympatric Speciation?

We cannot know for sure that the Lake Constance sticklebacks will continue evolving until they become two non-interbreeding species, says Marques. But evidence for sympatric speciation is growing, from mole rats in Israel to palms on Lord Howe Island, Australia, leading some evolutionary biologists, including Bird, to think it could be surprisingly common.

There is another case where sympatric speciation seems to be occurring nearly as fast as in the sticklebacks, Bird points out: apple maggots evolved from hawthorn maggots within two centuries of apples being introduced to North America.

As for the speed of the sticklebacks’ separation, there are now innumerable other examples of recent evolution that show how fast it can happen, from cancers becoming resistant to drugs and bedbugs becoming resistant to pesticides, to fish getting smaller to avoid becoming our dinner. It’s possible that such rapid evolution may even be the norm, rather than the exception.

Journal reference: PLOS Genetics, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005887

New Species in Two Generations?

The saga began in 1981 when a young large male cactus finch of the species Geospiza conirostris flew more than 100 kilometres from Espanola island to Daphne Major. Peter and Rosemary Grant, two researchers from Princeton University, noticed his arrival because they had been studying the Galapagos finches for decades.
The foreign bird later mated with a local medium ground finch of the species Geospiza fortis. They produced offspring with such an unusual song that they couldn’t attract mates from any of the four local species on Daphne Major, so they mated among themselves. That kind of “reproductive isolation” is one of the very strong criteria that defines a new species, said Sangeet Lamichhaney, a postdoctoral researcher at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University

There is also this example of quick adaptation, but it looks like phenotypic plasticity and not genetic change yet.

If the terminology is getting in the way of your appreciation, ask your question in the comments below and I will do my best to explain.

3 thoughts on “Some Recent Studies on Fast Speciation”

  1. I guess your point is about “the argument that evolution is too slow to replace” species? My argument was that absence of species may cause cascading effects that could be catastrophic. Two hundred years without pollinators might still be a problem. “Fast speciation” is reassuring in the same way that “the Earth will recover from the 6th extinction” is – humans might be casualty along the way.

  2. Hmmmmmmmmmm, Taxonomic Exuberance or phenotypic plasticity ??? This post back in March inspired me to finish a post in the draft drawer on the nonsense often surrounding how we name and label things in the species department and other similar associated labels/terms we use, but it seems to really depend on the context. In all cases the mechanisms which create the actual change are the same.

    For whatever reason, this site’s system has never allowed me to post the link, so here’s the title:

    Who has the right & authority to Name Nature ??? (& What’s up with Species?)


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