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Evolution in the flesh: Stories from the Galapagos Archipelago

Submitted by Marie Gilbert
Phone: 907-474-7412

08/30/05

 Rosemary and Peter Grant. Blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, and Charles Darwin may be synonymous with the Galápagos Islands, but it's the islands' finches which act out the stunning story of evolution in the flesh. Witnesses to this evolution in real time are Peter and Rosemary Grant, eminent evolutionary biologists from Princeton University, who have spent part of each of the last 32 years catching, weighing, measuring, and identifying hundreds of birds and their diets of seeds on a tiny, barren island in the Galápagos archipelago.

The Grants will present a lecture about their Galápagos research Friday, September 2, 2005, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Elvey Auditorium (room 214) on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus as the first in the Life Sciences Seminar Series sponsored by the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology and Department of Biology and Wildlife. The lecture is free and open to the public.

"The problem of explaining the origin of species has remained with us since Darwin's time," said Peter. "There is no shortage of ideas about how speciation occurs, but there is a lack of empirical information from nature that can be used to distinguish between alternative mechanisms."

The Galápagos Islands are an ideal laboratory in which to study the origin of species because the islands contain certain groups of organisms which have diversified into new species relatively rapidly and recently and continue to occupy the environment in which they evolved.

In this lecture, Peter said, "We will discuss the findings from long-term research into the biology of populations of Darwin's finches on the Galápagos islands. Fourteen species have been derived from a common ancestor in the last two to three million years, none has become extinct as a result of human activities and part of their environment is still in a natural state."

"We will discuss the ecological factors promoting diversification, how evolution occurs when the environment changes, what the barriers are to interbreeding, how they are inherited and what happens when they break down."

The Grants work on Galápagos finches was featured in the 1994 Pulitzer prize-winning book, "Beak of the Finch" by Jonathan Weiner.

Contact: Marie Gilbert, Publications and Information Coordinator, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 474-7412, marie.gilbert@uaf.edu. Additional Information: www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/6/l_016_01.html