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News from a “Cathedral of Biology”

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File:Darwin's finches by Gould.jpg
from Voyage of the Beagle/artist John Gould

As the Galapagos is called in a recent Nautilus article:  Bird malaria has hit the Galapagos, and may affect Darwin’s finches.

The short article introducing a radio discussion with two local biologists investigating the problem tells us:

The isolated Galapagos Islands are a ecological treasure and a key setting in the history of science: Charles Darwin did research there that helped him come to understand biological evolution—though, as detailed in a new Nautilus story by Henry Nicholls, it was observations of plants, rather than the better-known finches, that were most enlightening.

As it happened, Darwin contributed little to the study of finches beyond their name. In the context of a cathedral dedicated to him, that cannot of course be spelled out. Nor can the later claims, on behalf of his theory, that the finches were speciating rapidly be substantiated. Normal variations within species/subspecies/varieties (?) are differentially favoured depending on climate conditions.

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG

Note: Readers may recall Nautilus and Darwin from recent posts:

Science mag admits, DNA studies shake tree of animal life

Moderator for science mag article on how DNA studies shake tree of life bans discussion of “whether evolution is true.”

On the other hand: Novelist Nabokov’s butterfly evolution thesis vindicated 34 years after his death”

The world of facts still sometimes emits signals from Nautilus.  😉

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5 Replies to “News from a “Cathedral of Biology”

  1. 1
    jerry says:

    I again repeat. After 3 million years on the Galapagos, all of Darwin’s finches are one species. It is not quite clear what causes their morphology differences (could be epigenetic and not genetic) but they can all inner breed if they wanted to.

  2. 2
    Querius says:

    I understand that changes in their environment results in adjustments to beak size and shape in a single generation. However, I don’t know anything about their interbreeding or whether they should be considered a single species or several.

    -Q

  3. 3
    jerry says:

    I don’t know anything about their interbreeding or whether they should be considered a single species or several.

    They can all interbreed. They actually don’t but nothing physically or genetically prevents fertile offspring if they do. They mate by finding another finch with the same song pattern. So it is just preference not inability that determines mating patterns.

    We would call humans several different species based on the same behavior. But obviously we don’t.

  4. 4
    Joe says:

    The differences in those finches is akin to the different races of humans- never mind jerry got it covered.

  5. 5

    We would call humans several different species based on the same behavior.

    This is an important point, though generally we are too PC to bring it up.

    There have been many barriers to mating between groups of humans over even the relatively recent couple of thousand years. Geography being a huge one, until the advent of modern travel. But also differences in race, culture, language, religion and so on have often served as formidable, if imperfect, barriers. Many of these barriers have, at least at some point in human history, been as effective at preventing cross breeding as many of the things that are generally taken as signs of separate species in the animal kingdom. Yet we have not (other than some of the early eugenics-based writings), and dare not, suggest that different groups of humans should be treated as different species.

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