Are British birders behind the origin of a new blackcap species?
By feeding Sylvia atricapilla (central European blackcaps) during the winter, bird-lovers in Britain may be stimulating the “evolution” of a new bird species, ScienceNOW reports on recent research at the University of Freiburg. While most blackcaps fly southwest for the winter, heading from their native Germany and Austria to Spain, increasing numbers are making the winter trek to Britain instead—lured by the alternative food sources provided by bird lovers.
What’s more important from a biological perspective is that the different migratory routes are affecting mating behaviors. Because Britain is closer to central Europe than Spain is, the blackcaps wintering in Britain return home more than a week earlier than the blackcaps that winter in Spain. They begin mating immediately—and since the only other blackcaps around are those that also wintered in Britain, the group has started to be “reproductively isolated” from the blackcaps that winter in Spain.
Evolutionary biologist Martin Schaefer and his colleagues at the University of Freiburg captured blackcaps returning from their winter migrations and compared members of the two groups. The researchers discovered a small but significant genetic difference between the two groups, which they were able to use to correctly identify the migratory route of eighty-five percent of the birds. Furthermore, the scientists found differences in the physical traits of the two groups. The birds that take the shorter route and winter in Britain have rounder wings and narrower beaks, while the birds that take the longer route and winter in Spain have more pointed wings and wider beaks. The more pointed wings would allow faster travel on the longer route, while the wider beaks are better suited for eating olives and other fruits found in Spain.
For now, the two groups are still considered a single species, but the divergence observed by the Freiburg scientists could be the beginning of speciation. In one sense of the word, such speciation would mark “evolution”—change—in the blackcap population, the origin of two species of blackcap out of one. But we must note that neither blackcap population possesses new genetic information that was not present in the original population, and the offspring that might represent the beginnings of new species are still blackcap birds. Rather than illustrating the origin of all species from a single ancestor (as evolutionists might argue), the research better illustrates the speciation of all life-forms from the original created kinds—both after Creation and once the kinds exited the Ark after the Flood.
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