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Islands not evolutionary dead end, study finds

The popular view that islands were dead-ends of evolution may have to be rewritten after research published on Wednesday found exactly the opposite.
/ Source: Reuters

The popular view that islands were dead-ends of evolution may have to be rewritten after research published on Wednesday found exactly the opposite.

Far from species hopping steadily down an island chain from a continent and coming to a dead stop, the research using new techniques shows the process can actually go into reverse and spread back to the continents.

"People have always assumed that the source for biodiversity has been continents," said co-author Christopher Filardi from the American Museum of Natural History.

"The original source was continental but if you look at island lineages and analyse all the unique forms at once, as we have, you find that the Pacific is an engine of diversity ... that can contribute to continental diversity," he added.

Along with fellow biologist Robert Moyle, Filardi studied the DNA of the Monarch flycatcher — a species of bird widely distributed in the South Pacific and generally taken as the model for the island dead-end evolutionary theory.

The new research, published in Nature science journal, found that not only was the distribution of the birds not progressive but it began on the islands.

"Islands aren't just little landforms worth saving as icons of evolutionary quirkiness ... They are important in a broader sense and may contribute significantly to future diversity of life on earth," Filardi said.