Date: April 24, 2019
Source: University of Arizona
A University of Arizona-led research team has shown that evolution is driven by species interaction within a community.
All living things exist within communities, where they depend on resources or services provided by other species. As community members change, so do the products the species depend on and share. The late George Gaylord Simpson, who was a professor of geosciences at the UA and one of the most influential evolutionary thinkers of the last century, proposed that these fluctuating dependencies should determine the speed of evolution.
The theory has been notoriously difficult to test because species interactions are both ubiquitous and ephemeral, said UA ecology and evolutionary biology professor Alexander Badyaev. But he and his team think they've found a way by examining evolution of biochemical pathways that produce color diversity in birds.
Badyaev and his co-authors showed that the way biochemical processes are structured in birds holds the key to understanding how species gain and lose their reliance on others in their communities. Consequently, this dictates how quickly species can diversify and evolve.
The new study, which was published in Nature Communications earlier this month, both confirms this prediction and reveals the mechanisms that show how it works.
Badyaev studied the evolution of the pathways by which birds convert dietary carotenoids into molecules necessary for everything from vision to the immune system to feather pigmentation.