back to article Forget Sesame Street, scientists pretty much watched Big Bird evolve on Galápagos island

New research has documented a species of finch evolving on the Galápagos island of Daphne Major, 1,000km off the west coast of Ecuador, in just two generations. It's called the "Big Bird" lineage because, um, as finches go, the birds are relatively large. The work, led by Uppsala University's Sangeet Lamichaney with Princeton …

  1. ratfox Silver badge
    Devil

    I was under the impression that in order to be considered a different species, the most important factor was cross-fertility, not mating habits.

    There are certain groups of humans who only mate within the group; but I'd hardly say that Tories and Labour are different species.

    1. Geoff May (no relation)

      "hardly say that Tories and Labour are different species"

      I would ...

      1. Semtex451 Silver badge
        Alien

        New finch species developed in just two generations

        If only you Humans would develop in two generations.

        1. Avatar of They
          Coat

          Re: New finch species developed in just two generations

          They interbreed within two generations, does that count?

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Coat

        Re: "hardly say that Tories and Labour are different species"

        True.

        People from Norfolk OTOH....

        1. IceC0ld Bronze badge

          Re: "hardly say that Tories and Labour are different species"

          People from Norfolk OTOH....

          is that where they keep that third thumb :o)

    2. mstreet
      Happy

      "I'd hardly say that Tories and Labour are different species"

      But who knows...give it enough time....

      1. enormous c word
        Devil

        Re: "I'd hardly say that Tories and Labour are different species"

        Tory and Labour did interbreed, their first offspring of their unholy union was the 'Anthony Blair' - labours first ever conservative PM.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "in order to be considered a different species, the most important factor was cross-fertility, not mating habits."

      What TFA didn't say is that the different song is a factor in mating habits. The two lots of finches don't recognise each other as being the same species. If the Big Bird species survives there'll eventually be sufficient genetic drift to break cross-fertility even if it technically exists at present.

      Hybridisation has been recorded as a factor in speciation before, e.g. Spartina anglica.

      Deciding whether two things are a separate species are not is a black art. Taxonomists can be regarded as two separate species, lumpers and splitters or as two sub-species of Homo sapiens.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        I was taught...

        that for speciation to be considered complete, it required genetic incompatibility, not simply habitual mating practice. My tutor was of the opinion that so-called 'lock and key' mechanisms were obviously strong contributors to speciation, but because populations could re-converge and re-hybridise, they did not satisfy the proper conditions for speciation. The 'lock-and-key' hypothesis is best exemplified by reference to the erm... 'physical' compatibility or not of the erm... anatomical components required to effect gamete transfer. Indeed some of the videos I've seen on the internet would suggest that can happen in Homo sapiens as well. As for the IT angle... have you ever tried jamming a USB cable into a Firewire port?

        The professor I had for Evolutionary Biology was John Maynard Smith, by the way,

        1. Adam 1 Silver badge

          Re: I was taught...

          > have you ever tried jamming a USB cable into a Firewire port?

          No, but by my reckoning we should see a new species of cat5/USB anytime now.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I was taught...

            Up vote times 10. The funniest comment I've seen in a long while!

        2. DwarfPants

          Re: I was taught...

          And there will always be those that rebel against the natural order of things. A 15pin subD will fit in a 9pin serial if you push hard enough, but damage to your end is enviable.

    4. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      > the most important factor was cross-fertility,

      There are many married couples who cannot have children, does this make them different species ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "does this make them different species?" .... yes .... not even from the same planet.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Ah.. the men are from Mars and women are from Venus theory...

          1. Chemical Bob

            Re: men are from Mars and women are from Venus

            No, men are from Mars and women are from outer space...

    5. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      @ratfox - Breeds of cats or dogs are genetic populations that breed true to a breed standard. But they are not separate species. The mixed breed or mutts are just that. It takes several generations to develop a breed not 2.

      Some domestic cat breeds have wild cat ancestry. Bengals, Serengetis, and Savannahs have an F0 cross between a wild cat species and the domestic cat (specific breeds actually). The cross is fertile enough that some of the kittens can be bred with a domestic cat producing another generation. Depending on jurisdiction one can legally own one of F0 descendants around F4 or F5. The cat is considered a domestic cat for legal purposes and acts like a domestic cat.

      The problem is the somewhat sloppy definition of a species.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "The problem is the somewhat sloppy definition of a species."

        The problem is that the idea of a species is almost prescientific and arose before modern genetics. To use an analogy which may be illuminating but is probably totally wrong, it's like someone attempting to characterise cars without (a) knowing about manufacturers and (b) knowing about engines and transmissions. And then, when it turned out that the original classification system wasn't based on the deepest underlying facts, trying to keep it going regardless while shoehorning in new understanding.

    6. Phil Lord

      Cross-fertility is, unfortunately, too simplistic. A great dane and a chihuahua are not cross-fertile, yet are the same species. A horse and a donkey are cross-fertile but are a different species.

      There are lots of games that you can play to finesse these definitions of course, but still as an overarching definition for species it doesn't work, because the majority of organisms on the planet are not cross-fertile with anything and reproduce asexually.

      Biology is complicated.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Chihuahua x Great Dane is possible but unwise due to physical issues such as size of the birth canal, the teat etc. Genetically they are compatible. Ass (Donkey) x Horse do NOT produce a fertile offspring (mule) - their offspring are infertile due to chromosomal number incompatibility (64 vs 62).

        Oh, and the vast majority of organisms on the planet are bacteria and they DO reproduce 'sexually', in a fashion. They also reproduce asexually, and it's this bit that's taught up to O level biology - they leave out 'conjugation' until A level.

      2. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Boy is Biology complicated. As a Biologist I can attest that the species definition is losing its usefulness in Biology. Whether two species CAN interbreed is of much less import than DO they interbreed.

        The species concept is a human one, not a natural one. It is used to make complicated populations more intelligible to mere humans but Nature is under no obligation to conform to the boxes we try and put it in.

        There are two species of butterflies in Central America which border each other. When investigating how they maintain the border it was found that hybridisation did happen at the border but hybrids were not as successful as either parent species so died out. Nevertheless there was measurable gene flow between the two species. But to our eyes they still look like separate species.

        In insects like butterflies speciation can occur when a female mistakenly or otherwise lays her eggs on a different host plant. The caterpillars eat that host and grow up to prefer to lay their eggs on it and mate with others who have also eaten that plant.

      3. Hubert Thrunge Jr.
        Coat

        Phil Lord, apologies, a Great Dane vs Chihuahua is possible, they are dogs, they are "cross fertile" because they are no different in many ways than an Caucasian and an Afro-Caribbean. The issue is when you try to use a Great Dane dog vs Chihuahua bitch - and yes, it's been tried by mad people in the 'States. The other way around, a Great Dane bitch and Chihuahua dog would produce something, lord knows what.... I shudder to think, though the muppets that call their mongrels "Cockerpoos" and "Labradoodles" need correcting. It's a mongrel. It's not a new breed. Ask the Kennel Club, well try to....

        The product of Horse & Donkey is a genetic dead end because Mules are usually generally sterile as they have 63 Chromosomes compared to the Horse having 64 and Donkey having 62. Not saying that they can't breed, but experience has shown it to be unlikely.

        For any new "species" to be propagate, it must breed successfully within it's own "group".

        Yes, biology is complicated. Put humans in abject squalor, with a 60" flat screen TV and the latest iPhone and see how well they breed....

    7. Dacarlo

      Perhaps Wells morlock and eloi were prescient. The question is, which of the Tory/Labour ruling class is which?

    8. Chemical Bob

      "I'd hardly say that Tories and Labour are different species."

      They're different from normal people.

  2. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Pint

    Judging from your image that bird is already on day release tagged? What offence did it commit and was there any attempt to rehabilitate the species into a more law abiding one?

    We don't want them going the way of the Magpies...

    1. Chemical Bob

      I'd rather have a Strawberrypie.

      Magpies taste almost as fishy as Crappies...

  3. AbelSoul
    Trollface

    Pfffffttt!

    Not having it!

    Evolution is just a theory, after all.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Pfffffttt!

      Indeed! Like the theory of gravity.

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Pfffffttt!

        Of course gravity is a theory - it doesn't even apply to those who don't believe in it. Just watch old cartoons - walking off a cliff you only start falling when you notice you should...

      2. Chemical Bob

        Re: the theory of gravity

        There is no gravity. The Earth sucks.

        1. Julz

          Re: the theory of gravity

          Things are just a bit bent around the earth.

    2. Prosthetic Conscience
      Trollface

      Re: Pfffffttt!

      And it's not observable even so you can't prove it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pfffffttt!

      > "Evolution is just a theory..."

      By current science standards it ought to be a law, but too many people would object strongly, so it isn't technically referred to that way, to keep the peace.

      1. Stuart 22
        Coat

        Re: Pfffffttt!

        "By current science standards it ought to be a law, but too many people would object strongly, so it isn't technically referred to that way, to keep the peace."

        Or we could hold a binding referendum to decide once and for all ...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pfffffttt!

          Better to have a non-binding referendum, those are much more fun...

  4. Tinslave_the_Barelegged

    Adapt or die

    Surely the increase in size is an adaptation rather than an example of evolution? One hears the words as interchangeable, but I am not sure that is the case. Recently heard a description of some sub-tropical animal in a UK zoo. which, they found, developed thicker fur as a response to the lower temperature described as "evolving" thicker fur, but it's surely just an adaptation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Adapt or die

      As with all science, and IT angles, someone will spin it to the latest tech in the cloud, or socially accepted theory of evolution.

      The proof of a pudding is in the eating though, not in the headline.

      1. gypsythief
        Pint

        "The proof of a pudding is in the eating though"

        Ingredients

        4 Big Birds

        8 Rashers of Bacon

        500g Suet Pastry

        Method

        Place the plucked Big Birds in a roasting tray, and drape 2 rashers of bacon over each Big Bird

        Roast for half an hour at Gas Mark 6, basting with the bacon fat.

        After half an hour, wrap each Big Bird in suet pastry, and then steam for 4 hours.

        I think you'll find that does a grand job of prooving the pudding!

        (And don't forget a nice pint of ale to wash it down)

        1. Paul Herber Silver badge

          Re: "The proof of a pudding is in the eating though"

          Why is it that rare species always taste better?

  5. Gobhicks

    More evidence ...

    ... of an interventionist god messing with our heads

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: More evidence ...

      haha, obviously...because there are no more important issues facing our species ;)

  6. colinb
    Joke

    "And after two generations, the Big Birds ceased mating with the natives – only among themselves"

    Hm, bit racist. "Variety is the very spice of life"

  7. Richard Parkin

    A competent taxonomist needed

    Classification of living things is very artificial and overlays the natural world rather like the rules of grammar attempt to order language. The best definition of a species that I know of is that it is that group of creatures defined as such by a competent taxonomist.

  8. handleoclast

    What makes a species?

    There are different operational definitions used in different sub-fields of biology. These days, however, having a common gene pool tends to be the fundamental definition.

    If they're not interfertile, they're different species.

    If the offspring are sterile, different species.

    If the offspring are fertile but incapable of surviving for long in the wild, different species.

    Even if none of the above are a problem, if they could successfully mate and have offspring that could continue to contribute to the same gene pool but choose not to mate, different species.

    All of which gets complicated by ring species and clines, which can exist because gene pools are viscous.

    Oh, and then there are rabbits in Australia. They've been artificially separated.. If you brought Australian rabbits back to Britain they're probably still the same species (don't do it the other way around because the Australians will get upset if you bring rabbits into the country) but eventually will no longer be.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    Fails to answer the most important question.

    When they've been plucked, skinned and steeped in sauce what do they taste like after the barbie?

    Mine's the one with "Chef" on the back.

  10. Kevin Johnston

    So this 'Separate species' question

    Where do Lions and Tigers fit in that? The can interbreed (OK, only in captivity due to rather different location) with fertile offspring yet we are assured they are different species.

    1. John H Woods

      Re: So this 'Separate species' question

      Tigons and Ligers are +usually+ infertile.

    2. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: So this 'Separate species' question

      All of the Panthera cats (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars) can and will interbreed both in and out of captivity, though jaguars have a difficult time of stepping out with other cats due to the South Atlantic Ocean being in the way. Mostly it's due to male lions, who apparently will screw anything which holds still long enough. (Hmm. Sounds like some other males I know.) Male tigers are somewhat more circumspect, or at least less attractive to other kitties. Tigons (male tiger/female lion cross) and ligers (male lion/female tiger cross) are often fertile. Crosses with leopards and jaguars are much less so. Note that the biggest cats result from having a lion as the father; other kitties lack the gene complex that lionesses have which cuts back on the size, so ligers and litigons (tigons crossed with lions) tend to be really, really REALLY big cats. Here's a nice big house kitty: https://i.pinimg.com/474x/30/d9/25/30d925cf64948b1985e6ba75087d883f--ligers--years.jpg and here's daddy house kitty, son house kitty, and soon to be lunch: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/b9/f1/e2/b9f1e2ca81aeebf28229b7445f82c5de.jpg

      See, they're nice friendly kitties, just the thing for inviting into the house.

      I like wolves. They're less likely to roll over you and crush you by 'accident'.

  11. unwarranted triumphalism

    Without a robust definition of species

    There can be no verifiable claims of speciation. Looks like the arrogant jumped-up scienticians lose again.

    One would think they'd get the hint after being called out on all their other lies, but it seems they can't learn anything.

    1. cray74

      Re: Without a robust definition of species

      Looks like the arrogant jumped-up scienticians lose again.

      David Wolfe, is that you?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you want to see the continued evolution of big birds...

    Then I suggest a trip to Stevenage town centre on any Saturday night. You will see them in their own natural environment eating and mating with awful abandon.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Re: If you want to see the continued evolution of big birds...

      I suggest a trip to Stevenage town centre on any Saturday night."

      Damm.

      Sounds nasty.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Coat

        "I suggest a trip to Stevenage town centre on any Saturday night.""

        I sense a new reality TV show in the making.

        I need to lie down until my level of self disgust at having thought that up has dropped.

        1. Kiwi Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: "I suggest a trip to Stevenage town centre on any Saturday night.""

          I need to lie down until my level of self disgust at having thought that up has dropped.

          Does the thought that such a show would involve lots of things being "dropped" and other people "lying down" help your mindset?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Charles Darwin & Alfred Russel Wallace

    Men before their time.

    Give me an E

    Give me a V

    Give me an O

    Give me an L

    Give me a U

    Give me a T

    Give me an I

    Give me an O

    Give me an N

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Charles Darwin & Alfred Russel Wallace

      This only qualifies as "Evolution" by the thinnest and weakest definitions.

      Hell, it barely qualifies as speciation(sp) and, as from the article itself, even that is debatable.

      The Darwinian theory is a long way from modern theories on evolution! And going on the past, many of today's theories will be unrecognisable from those around in 50 years time...

  14. phuzz Silver badge
    Joke

    It's called the "Big Bird" lineage because they were named after your mum

    ftfy

  15. Farnet

    Downvotes

    Reading through the comments I find most of them rather clever or amusing...

    I'm assuming there is specific individual(s) that aren't the followers of the evolution process, as most comments have at least one downvote, which on REG is rather unusual.

    Wish you could find out who the voters are (like facebook)

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