SOLOMONS FLYCATCHER ANSWERING DARWIN’S QUESTIONS

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Feb. 24) – A bird found only in the Solomon Islands is challenging the science world’s understanding of evolution.

American Scientist, Chris Filardi, a University of Montana visiting scholar said the monarch flycatcher, a medium-size songbird sheds light to a new direction that can prove conventional understanding of evolution mistaken.

Curious about how new species arrive on islands, Filardi began gathering DNA samples from the flycatchers and reconstructing relationships between the birds on the islands and on the island’s nearest continents.

What he and co-researcher Robert Moyle discovered was that islands are much like a petri dish that sprouts its own biodiversity.

Contrary to conventional thinking, the scientists, both of whom work for the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, have found evidence that islands are not evolutionary dead ends, but can actually be sources of new species.

Filardi said, likewise, biodiversity flows from islands to continents, not just from continents to islands.

Haunted by one of Evolution Theorist Charles Darwin’s great unanswered questions, Filardi set out to understand what actually generates new species.

He said reproduction isolation, which is generally driven by geographical isolation is perhaps the answer.

Filardi and Moyle go to great lengths about their discoveries in the latest edition of the science journal "Nature."

In the article, the scientists explained their testing shows that a large and diverse array of Monarch flycatchers in Solomon Islands resulted from a single radiation, involving nearly every major Pacific archipelago, suggesting major diversification occurred entirely within island settings.

Furthermore, diversification of the birds within continental settings appears quite limited when compared to the differentiation of color and shape achieved on islands.

Filardi isn’t arguing the established notion that continents are the original source for biodiversity, but rather, the Pacific islands he studied are their own engine of diversity that contribute to continental diversity.

He said the findings are pretty striking, but also disconcerting.

Although we live in the 21st century and science has made impressive discoveries, the truth is that so little is known about island ecologies and their contribution to the globe," Filardi said.

While Filardi will continue with his research, he’s hoping it will spark other projects by other scientists who investigate island life in the tropical Pacific.

"If we keep getting this kind of result, it will be relevant for the whole world," he said.

"And because of that, we will have to think differently about islands everywhere and what we do with them."

Friday, November 18, 2005

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