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A UMass Boston professor and his colleagues have published new research showing that feeding on human junk food may be altering the course of evolution in Darwin's finches.
Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Biology Luis De León says feeding on human foods is weakening natural selection on ground finch beaks, which is what drives the formation of new species in the wild. These findings, published in the journal Evolutionary Applications, suggest that the seemingly harmless activity of feeding birds might be altering the course of evolution in the iconic Darwin's finches in the Galápagos islands.
Finches - Species - Processes - Formation - Species
"If we continue to feed finches, we're not only affecting the individual species, but the processes that lead to the formation of new species," De León said. "We're getting in the way of evolution."
Galápagos finches are famed for being the inspiration behind Charles Darwin's pioneering work on evolution. They are an example of adaptive radiation, an evolutionary process that produces new species from a single, rapidly diversifying lineage. Their common ancestor arrived on the Galápagos about two million years ago, and since then Darwin's finches have evolved into more than a dozen recognized species differing in body size, beak shape, and feeding behavior.
De - León - Researchers - UMass - Amherst
De León and fellow researchers from UMass Amherst, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, McGill University, and Norwegian University of Science and Technology were on Santa Cruz Island when they found two forms of medium ground finches—a small and large version—while studying beak size at an isolated, pristine site.
When they repeated the same set of measurements at a nearby urban site, the distinction between the two beak sizes was not present. Studying data collected by other researchers in the 1970s, the researchers could see the two types of medium ground finches had been present in the area before, but something had changed in the last 40-50 years.
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