Scientists have watched as a new species is “born”—or is that “evolved”?—on one of the Galapagos Islands, home of Darwin’s famous finches.
Peter and Rosemary Grant have studied Darwin’s finches for decades. Now, the biologists have “witnessed that elusive moment when a single species splits in two,” BBC News reports.
The birds on the islands are popularly known for helping inspire Charles Darwin’s ideas on natural selection and speciation, hence their nickname. For that reason, the birds—as with peppered moths—are a common example of natural selection and “evolution” in action.
The Grants’ story begins with a specimen of Geospiza fortis (a medium ground finch) that flew from a neighboring island to the Grants’ island in 1981 (and was captured by the Grants). The finch was larger than most, had a wider beak, sang an unusual song, and had several genetic variations from a “foreign” finch species. After finding a mate—who also had some outsider genetic variations—the two birds had five male offspring.
It seems their distinct songs caused the male offspring to be ignored by all but their kin.
The new males were set apart from their island kin because they inherited not only their father’s large size and wide beak, but also his unique songs with some new twists. While the sons managed to find mates who were native to the island, their descendants—at least by four generations later—were only breeding with one another. It seems their distinct songs caused the male offspring to be ignored by all but their kin.
The finding was reinforced when a drought killed many of the island’s finches, including all of the foreign finch’s descendants except one male and his sister. They summarily mated with one another, as did their offspring. After more generations followed suit, the Grants decided it was time to deem the birds the first of a new species because they do not breed with the native finches.
This story is a good illustration of several creationist points:
The Grants have done science a service in documenting in detail (and through years of arduous observation) an instance of speciation. While that confirms Darwin’s ideas about natural selection (which others had pointed out before Darwin), it provides no evidence for the idea that all species share a single common ancestor.
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