Evolution and One Lost Boy Produce New Species of Bird in Two Generations, and for the first time we absolutely watched it happen #science #biology #evolution #Galapagos

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Scientists identified the island and species their bird came from – here’s one of his brethren

What’s a species? What separates one species from another? The word may be a handy abstraction but it’s also fuzzy. Our words aren’t as precise as we might hope.

Consider the evolution of a new species of bird, in two generations, from a single lost finch spotted by a graduate student.

The arrival 36 years ago of a strange bird to a remote island in the Galapagos archipelago… mated with a member of another species resident on the island, giving rise to a new species that today consists of roughly 30 individuals.

The newcomer was a male that sang a different song, and was much larger with a larger beak than three finch species living on the island. Because the island was small and intensely studied, researchers were able to collect blood samples of the new male and track his breeding.

A species is a population that interbreeds within its own group but not outside. That doesn’t mean individuals can’t or won’t breed outside their group – and produce offspring that can also breed. Some species are isolated because they because they never bump into each other.

“Reproductive isolation is considered a critical step in the development of a new species.” The new male’s offspring looked different and sang a different song than the fiches around them. Since they had each other, they weren’t as desperate (or lucky? insistent?) as their father, so they mated with each other. That’s why they’ve been awarded the title of species.

Such intense inbreeding can exaggerate genetic diseases and weaknesses, but that isn’t obvious yet for these finches. Who knows? Problems may arise. Perhaps we’ll watch the demise of this new species in coming years.

This new species may say more about people than birds. The Galapagos finches continue to be fascinating birds, utterly unconcerned about human-created concepts, taxonomy, or language.

More at phys.org/news and many other outlets.

Sad Victory Over Greatest Bird #nature #poem #poetry #birdwatching #birds

Passenger pigeons by Audubon

Once upon a time,
Once there was a land
Where one bird
out of every two
Was gray with throat of cinnamon.

Their flocks eclipsed the sun
When migration season came.
One shotgun blast would bring down
Two dozen,
Without the need to aim.

With numbers in the trillions,
A breeding colony
Might blanket fifty miles
With its sovereignty.

And we killed them all.

They could lay waste to fields
But someone must have seen
Their numbers falling fast
And known what that would mean.

It took us several decades,
Less than a century
Of ruthless persecution
Of this farmers’ enemy.

To kill them all.

Do any mourn today
An action so draconian
While viewing stuffed remains
Of the last one
In the Smithsonian?

The last passenger pigeon.

By Kate Rauner

The last passenger pigeon

Thanks to karlshuker for his post on the passenger pigeon. Visit http://reviverestore.org/ for a fascinating look into de-extinction. Reconstructing the passenger pigeon is their flagship project.

Their aim is to increase forest health and biodiversity, especially what’s been lost since the 1700s. Like wildfires, passenger pigeons were a major source of beneficial forest regeneration in eastern North America for tens of thousands of years.

Revive & Restore’s goal is “to hatch the first generation of new passenger pigeons by 2022 and begin trial wild releases ten years later.” Genome sequencing is already underway. Wow.