As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Bird lovers help scientists discover secrets of beak evolution

Date: February 2, 2017
Source: University of Sheffield

Citizen scientists and bird lovers across the world have helped researchers to uncover new secrets about the evolution of bird's beaks over time in a ground-breaking study.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield asked the public to help measure beak shapes from more than 2000 bird species which have been 3D scanned from specimens at the Natural History Museum and the Manchester Museum.

Using the crowdsourced data, the team were able show that the diversity of bird beaks expanded early in their evolutionary history. The most unusual beak shapes often involved periods of exceptionally fast evolutionary change.

However, once extremes are reached, the changes to bird beaks over time became much smaller as birds filled ever-narrower evolutionary niches.

There are some examples -- such as birds who have evolved in comparative isolation on remote islands such as the Galapagos and the Hawaiian archipelago -- who have continued to evolve rapidly.

Gavin Thomas, the project lead from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, said: "The shape of a bird's beak is an important indicator of the food it eats and the way it forages -- its ecological niche.

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