New 'Big Bird' species discovered in Galapagos Islands

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That species now has 30 members, according to a study published in Science.

After decades of hybridisation, a group of finches on the Daphne Major island in the Galapagos Island chain developed closed breeding.

The new birds, which took hold of unexploited food on the island, are bigger than other species on Daphne Major, so the researchers called them Big Bird.

In 1981, there were three species of finches on the island.

Professors Rosemary and Peter Grant of Princeton University collaborated with Prof Leif Andersson of Sweden's Uppsala University to genetically analyze the mixed-species population, and published their findings in Science journal on November 23.

A new species of finch has evolved on the Galapagos Islands, the archipelago that was central to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. "Big Bird" mated with a native medium ground finch, Geospiz fortis, and created an entirely new lineage of "Big Birds". Luis De León, an evolutionary biologist at University of Massachusetts, Boston, told The Register: "The authors have combined the wealth of historical data collected by Peter and Rosemary Grant in [the] last 40 years with modern genetic data from the genomic era".

"We have no indication about the long-term survival of the Big Bird lineage, but it has the potential to become a success, and it provides a handsome example of one way in which speciation occurs", said Leif Andersson, a professor at Uppsala University.

This reproductive isolation is considered a critical step in the development of a new species when two separate species interbreed, the scientists said.

Their song, which is used to attract mates, is unusual, so they failed to attract the females of the local species.


They also differed from the resident species in beak size and shape, which is a major cue for mate choice.

Professor Leif Andersson, of Uppsala University, added: "A naturalist who came to Daphne Major without knowing that this lineage arose very recently would have recognized this lineage as one of the four species on the island".

Researchers previously thought the formation of a new species takes a very long time.

The Big Birds became reproductively isolated from the native birds on Daphne Major, a tiny Galapagos island, in just two generations. The baby finches were neither one nor the other, and developed with beaks and calls that were unmatched among the resident species.

"This clearly demonstrates the value of long-running field studies".

"We have no indication about the long-term survival of the Big Bird lineage, but it has the potential to become a success, and it provides a attractive example of one way in which speciation occurs".

The Big Bird finch, product of inbreeding and rapid evolution.

However, he said if a group of individuals can keep mating among its own and keep a "competitive advantage" then the species will "keep on going".

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