Two species of ravens nevermore? New research finds evidence of 'speciation reversal'

ScienceDaily | 3/2/2018 | Staff
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"The bottom line is [speciation reversal] is a natural evolutionary process, and it's probably happened in hundreds or almost certainly thousands of lineages all over the planet," said Kevin Omland, professor of biological sciences at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and co-author on the new study. "One of our biggest goals is to just have people aware of this process, so when they see interesting patterns in their data, they won't say, 'That must be a mistake,' or, 'That's too complicated to be correct.'"

"We examined genomic data from hundreds of ravens collected across North America," said Anna Kearns, the study's first author and a former postdoctoral fellow at UMBC, who is now a postdoc at the Smithsonian Center for Conservation Genomics. "Integrating all of the results across so many individuals, and from such diverse datasets, has been one of the most challenging aspects of this study. Next-generation genomic techniques are revealing more and more examples of species with hybrid genomes."

Omland - Work - Project - Common - Ravens

When Omland initially began work on this project in 1999, Common Ravens were considered a single species worldwide. He thought further research might uncover two distinct species -- perhaps an "Old World" and "New World" raven -- but the real story is much more complicated. Omland reported the existence of two Common Raven lineages in 2000, one concentrated in the southwestern United States dubbed "California," and another found everywhere else (including Maine, Alaska, Norway and Russia) called "Holarctic."

Since then, the plot has thickened. Two undergraduates in Omland's lab, Jin Kim and Hayley Richardson, analyzed mitochondrial DNA from throughout the western United States and found the two lineages are extensively intermixed. In 2012, the Norwegian Research Council provided major funding for the project and Kearns spent a year at the University of Oslo analyzing nuclear genome data.


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