100 years of forest fragmentation is forcing birds to evolve
New research shows deforestation during the 20th century has forced songbirds to rapidly change their wings.
Mon, Feb 22, 2010 at 02:59 PM
A new study that draws on more than 100 years of archived bird specimens reveals that forest fragmentation is causing rapid evolution in North American songbirds, according to MSNBC.
Andre Desrochers of Quebec’s University Laval and the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University is the scientist at the helm of the study. He examined a museum collection of 851 preserved songbird specimens spanning 21 species collected from 1900 to 2008. He found that the wing shape of birds in areas where forests have become fragmented by clear-cutting have evolved and changed shape.
The birds found in these regions have developed pointier wings, which are more efficient for long-distance commuting. Other birds in re-foresting areas have more rounded wings, which are better for flying short distances.
Why is forest fragmentation causing the songbirds’ wing shape to evolve? The need to mate.
Desrochers said, "To me, it has become apparent that fragmentation is a really big problem. If you (as a songbird) are in a fragmented habitat, you have more chance of being without a mate."
According to the MSNBC article, “There is what's called ‘selective pressure’ on birds to travel farther — from forest fragment to forest fragment — in order to find their one and only. Birds that can do this better tend to succeed in mating and pass on their more efficient mate-searching traits — in this case pointier wings — to their offspring.”
Michael Brooke, curator of ornithology at the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology in the U.K., agrees with Desrochers’ findings.
It seems that our feathered friends are more complex evolutionary machines than we know. Consider the questions of emerging research. Did birds evolve from dinosaurs or did dinosaurs evolve from birds? Are bird feeders speeding the pace of evolution?
In the survival of the fittest, it seems birds are one species well-suited to come out on top, appropriately enough.