Friday, 15 June 2012

Is it possible to predict the formation of new species? - Probably

Predicting the formation of new species
June 2012. Why do some groups of species diversify - in just a few thousand years - to the point of forming a wide variety of new species, while others remain essentially unchanged for millions of years? This is one of the key questions for scientists investigating the emergence and decline of biodiversity.
From various studies, it is known that speciation is influenced both by environmental factors (e.g. habitat diversity, climate) and by species-specific traits (e.g. coloration, behaviour patterns). However, little is known about how the extrinsic and intrinsic factors interact.
Cichlid diversification
These interactions have now been explored in more detail by a team of researchers led by Eawag and the University of Bern. In a study published in the latest issue of Nature, they demonstrate for cichlids from 46 African lakes that the probability of diversification, or "adaptive radiation", depends on a combination of environmental factors and sexual selection. African cichlids are particularly suitable for this type of study because of the extremely high species richness that developed over time from what was originally a small number of species in large African lakes. For Lakes Victoria and Malawi alone, more than 800 endemic cichlid species have been identified.

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