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Fish trapped in hole exchanges genes with neighbouring populations


From Nature News:

The pupfish has evolved distinct differences from related species that live nearby, including reduced aggression, larger eyes and missing pelvic fins.


Many researchers thought that the fish species had been isolated in its cavern from around 13,000 years ago — the last time major flooding occurred in the region. But Christopher Martin, an evolutionary biologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and his colleagues say that genetic sequencing suggests that the pupfish became trapped in Devils Hole somewhere between 105 and 830 years ago — and since then has continued to exchange genes with neighbouring populations of pupfish species.

“That was the big surprise,” says Martin. “Every few hundred years there’s a fish or two that’s moving between the desert springs.” The fish either somehow move over land, he says, or are transported as eggs stuck to the feet of water birds.More.

This story, like a spate in recent months, seems to be talking around the fact that it’s not clear that the endangered species ever was a species in any meaningful sense.

If there is a meaningful sense, what is it?

Which raises a question: When we legislate to protect endangered species, how do we know they are in fact species? We could be putting limited conservation money into the wrong projects, and the situation is ripe for political exploitation.

See also: “Speciation” means what exactly? No one can define it but it is the basis of Darwinian evolution.

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