New research on Galápagos finches


This video is about the Galápagos finches.

From National Wildlife Magazine in the USA:

The Continuing Saga of the Galápagos Finches

By Sharon Levy

The island birds that helped shape Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution are giving scientists new insights into how natural selection works

CHARLES DARWIN believed that natural selection was far too slow to be observed in the wild.

But for the past three decades, the same small Galápagos birds that inspired Darwin to form his revolutionary theory have been revealing that the process works with surprising speed.

Scientists can, and do, watch evolution in action—a development that would have boggled the English naturalist’s mind.

In 1835, as he traveled through the Galápagos, the 25-year-old Darwin saw a multitude of little birds.

He prepared specimens to bring back to England, assuming he was collecting Galápagos varieties of the warblers, sparrows and finches found on the South American mainland.

Many months later, John Gould, an ornithologist studying Darwin’s bird skins at the Zoological Society of London, informed him that instead he had found 14 new species—every single one of them a finch, every single one found only in the Galápagos.

When he published a memoir of his voyage, Darwin wrote that in the ground finches of the Galápagos, “a nearly perfect gradation may be traced, from a beak extraordinarily thick, to one so fine, that it may be compared to that of a warbler.

New Research on Darwin’s Finches Offers Rare Glimpse Into How Species Diverge: here.

Zebra finches: here.

Stephen Jay Gould: here.

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12 thoughts on “New research on Galápagos finches

  1. New Field exhibit takes on Darwin detractors

    Museum event details his life, examines his discoveries and champions the science

    By William Mullen
    Tribune staff reporter

    Published June 12, 2007, 11:15 PM CDT

    In 1831 Charles Darwin was a callow 22-year-old college graduate trained in theology and science when he embarked on a two-year, around-the-world voyage on the British ship Beagle. He was the expedition’s unpaid scientist, his duty as much as anything being to provide conversational company for the ship’s aristocratic captain.

    The voyage, ostensibly to map the coastline and ports of South America, ended up taking five years. Darwin, thinking of himself mainly as a geologist, brought home thousands of geological, botanical and zoological specimens and ideas that eventually shook the world and have shaped biological science and theology ever since.

    As part of the Field Museum’s campaign to rally public support for time-tested principles of science as they come under religious attack, the museum on Friday opens “Darwin,” a major temporary exhibit that traces the life and career of the man who first devised the theory of biological evolution and natural selection.

    Using the naturalist’s personal effects, hundreds of specimens, historical photographs, notebooks, manuscripts, living animals and film, the exhibit vividly explains evolutionary theory and re-creates the upper crust world of Victorian science in which Darwin, the son of a wealthy physician and financier, was reared.

    “Isn’t it ironic that the tension between scientific inquiry and religion that existed in Darwin’s day remains a major force today?” said Field president John McCarter.

    McCarter was a big proponent of creating the exhibit as a counterbalance to a surprisingly strong movement working to restore creationist teachings in schools: that evolutionary theory is false and that God created the Earth and all living species upon it about 6,000 years ago. Last year the Field was host to a temporary exhibit on pioneering geneticist Gregor Mendel and unveiled a permanent “Evolving Planet” exhibit that states the case for evolution.

    Darwin himself struggled to reconcile religion and science in his mind, as creationism was the prevailing religious dogma of his day.

    Before he was born, his family had suffered some disgrace in 1801 when his grandfather Erasmus Darwin, an amateur naturalist, published a book, “Zoomania,” in which he mildly suggested animals might be traced back to a common ancestor.

    “Erasmus was very soundly, publicly ridiculed by other scientists for having such ideas,” said Tom Skwerski, the Field project manager overseeing the exhibit’s installation. “The ridicule his grandfather suffered may be why Darwin was very cautious about revealing his own work and ideas for many years.”

    Darwin believed in creationism as he studied for the ministry in college, though he was more attracted to scientific pursuits, including geology and beetle collecting. Those interests won him his spot on the Beagle voyage months after he graduated in 1831.

    As he filled notebooks with scientific observations while traveling the coasts of South America, Darwin’s religious doubts grew.

    Geological formations he saw showed the world to be millions and billions of years old, not thousands. Plant and animal specimens he collected, both living and fossilized, suggested species constantly adapting to changing environments.

    The most telling stop was the Galapagos Islands, where he noted that finches, tortoises and other species seemed adapted to specific conditions on their native islands.

    Darwin returned to England in 1836 and spent many years thinking through what he had seen, consulting with various experts but never telling a soul what he was working on.

    He also married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood of the Wedgwood pottery family. Devoted to each other, they had 10 children, but Emma was mortified by her husband’s deepening religious skepticism, fearing they would not be united in the eternal hereafter.

    By 1842 Darwin had written out the bare bones of what he called “my theory” in a 48-page “sketch” that was shown to no one but his wife. In 1844, he expanded it to a 164-page essay, parts of which he began showing to trusted friends.

    He admitted to one that publicly talking about his belief in the evolution of species “is like confessing a murder.”

    In 1858, he received a letter from a younger scientist, Alfred Russel Wallace, who had done extensive field work in the Amazon rain forests. Unaware of Darwin’s secret work, Wallace had formulated an almost identical but less complete theory on natural selection and wanted Darwin to review it.

    Alarmed that Wallace might publish first, Darwin asked friends to intercede. Wallace agreed that Darwin was further along with the theory and the men’s papers were presented at the same time that year.

    When he published his work in 1859 as a book, “On the Origin of the Species,” it brought Darwin the ridicule and revulsion he had feared, some of which came from some of his most trusted scientific mentors and friends who termed it religious heresy.

    But younger scientists paid attention, and gradually, as the theory was tested year after year by hundreds, then thousands, of researchers, it became the foundation of all biological thinking.

    “Nobody has been able to disprove his theory,” Skwerski said. “None has come up with another theory that would disprove it or better explain the biodiversity of life.”

    Though Darwin never regained his faith, many of his modern-day disciples in biology and genetics see no conflict between religion and evolutionary theory. A few talk about their personal beliefs in a video display in the exhibit.

    Mounted and displayed by New York’s American Museum of Natural History in 2005, the exhibit is traveling to four collaborating museums, including the Boston Museum of Science, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the London Natural History Museum. The London opening will coincide with the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth on Feb. 12, 1809, the same day Abraham Lincoln was born.

    “One of the ways to tell science stories is through individuals, giving them a human dimension,” McCarter said. “Darwin and his theory is a very human, very touching story that we think helps people understand what science is and how it is done.”

    wmullen@tribune.com

    Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

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