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Darwin’s finches have developed a taste for junk food, and it may be impacting their evolution

Darwin's finch


A UMass Boston professor and his colleagues have published new research showing that feeding on human junk food may be altering the course of evolution in Darwin’s finches.

Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Biology Luis De León says feeding on human foods is weakening natural selection on ground finch beaks, which is what drives the formation of new species in the wild. These findings, published in the journal Evolutionary Applications, suggest that the seemingly harmless activity of feeding birds might be altering the course of evolution in the iconic Darwin’s finches in the Galápagos islands.

“If we continue to feed finches, we’re not only affecting the individual species, but the processes that lead to the formation of new species,” De León said. “We’re getting in the way of evolution.”

Galápagos finches are famed for being the inspiration behind Charles Darwin’s pioneering work on evolution. They are an example of adaptive radiation, an evolutionary process that produces new species from a single, rapidly diversifying lineage. Their common ancestor arrived on the Galápagos about two million years ago, and since then Darwin’s finches have evolved into more than a dozen recognised species differing in body size, beak shape, and feeding behaviour. MORE

Header image: Finches eat from an egg crate left by the researchers. Credit: University of Massachusetts Boston.

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