Colourful birds quicker to evolve: study

2012-05-10 17:16

Sydney - Birds with multiple versions of their colour patterns evolved into new species more quickly than those with uniform plumage, Australian researchers revealed in a significant genetic study published Thursday.

The University of Melbourne research, published in "Nature", found that birds with more than one version of its markings such as the Gouldian finch, which can have a red, black or yellow head, "rapidly" evolved into new species.

The study proves a theory in evolutionary biology first proposed 60 years ago and helps shed light on the processes that create biodiversity, according to lead researcher Devi Stuart-Fox.

"We're trying to figure out how and why new species evolve... the triggers and catalysts," she said.
"Why will some populations evolve into new species while others just stay the same for millions and millions and millions of years?"


Though they look different, the finches in the study coexist within a single population and Stuart-Fox said the study found they evolved into genetically new species much faster than uniformly-coloured birds.

"This is the first time that we've been able to show that it actually speeds up speciation rates or rates of evolution," she added.

Hawks, eagles, owls and nightjars were the focus of the Melbourne study but birds are not the only animals with so-called "colour polymorphic" species - it was also a feature of fish, lizards, butterflies and snails.

The different colour versions often varied in things like physiology and behaviour and Stuart-Fox said their inclusion within a single population "might allow [it] to exist in a broader range of environments".

Some researchers were examining whether and how colour polymorphism contributed to species' resilience and adaptability to external factors such as habitat loss and climate change, she added.

  • Paulus - 2012-05-10 17:29

    Where are all those die-hards now who maintain that there are no scientific proof for evolution.

      Mike - 2012-05-10 17:53

      The so called die-hards are not educated in science and therefore any opinion the make is irrelevant and furthermore they have no interest in evidence.

      johan.vanreenen1 - 2012-05-10 18:33

      What does it prove? The birds remained birds! They did not become anything else - that is where the problem with evolution lies.

      Pieter Schoeman - 2012-05-10 18:36

      Theyre still finches, hahaha desperate to proof but to foolish to admit this religion!

      somersetmorkel - 2012-05-11 09:57

      The terminology is misleading: never has a new species been formed. Birds stay birds, flies stay flies - they just become different forms of birds, or flies, or dogs, or horses, or.. Its in the genetic material. Evoluition still has not been proven, in spite of all the hype.

  • Tankiso Mogoje - 2012-05-10 18:27

    Wow,this evolution thing is becoming much clearer to me now.

  • Ted - 2012-05-10 18:44

    The folly and helplessness of mankind. Getting to study and get accolades and trying to prove what the mighty hand has made. So when are the finches going to be crocodiles?

      Bob - 2012-05-10 18:53

      I think you should take a crack at that studying thing Ted.

      Pieter Schoeman - 2012-05-10 21:49

      Those who study already proven the folly of their foolishnes. This is just a desperate attempt to make a fools opinion a wisemans fact. Ni proof has been given for this religion and none exist. To see a bird change color is proof of everything but evolution.

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