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Evolution of Darwin’s Finches: the role of genetics, ecology and behaviour

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Clare Kitcat.

Arranged in conjunction with the Charles Darwin and Galapagos Islands Fund

Darwin’s visit to the Galápagos Archipelago in 1835 lasted a mere five weeks; yet his observations during that time played a pivotal role in the formation of his theory of Evolution by means of Natural Selection. Since then the particulate basis of inheritance has been discovered and the escalating field of genetics has transformed our understanding of evolution. Much less is understood about the actual method of species formation, how one species splits into two, a fundamental evolutionary feature that is key to the generation of the diversity of organisms we see in the fossil record and around us today. One hundred and thirty-eight years after Darwin’s visit to the Galápagos, we returned to these islands to begin an investigation into evolution as a process, and extend our understanding into the way species are formed. A long-term study of the genetics, ecology and behaviour of the closely related group of Darwin’s finches has given us windows into the steps involved in the speciation process, and allowed us to identify important causal factors. In this talk I will highlight our findings, and show how they can be generalized to other organisms. I will conclude with our most recent and exciting discovery of the formation of a new lineage of finches, which we have followed from its inception for over six generations. Thus, revealing how a new species can be formed in a few decades of contemporary time.

This talk is part of the Lady Margaret Lectures series.

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