The Birth of Biodiversity
If you’ve been reading the news this week, you know that we’ve just been starkly reminded that the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction – a biodiversity crisis like nothing it has experienced in 65 million years. Yet while species disappear at an unprecedented rate, new species are also being born all around us, and this fascinating process – speciation – is continuing just as it has been for eons.
But exactly how does one species become two? This is one of the biggest questions in biology. With funding from the National Science Foundation, Nathan Dappen and I followed National Geographic grantee Dr. Al Uy (University of Miami) halfway around the world to the Solomon Islands to document his cutting-edge research on speciation.
(If you don’t have time to read the whole post, be sure to check out the world broadcast premiere of our film “Islands of Creation” tonight at 8pm on Smithsonian Channel. But if you want to learn more about Uy’s work, read on!)
Despite its title, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was largely silent on the question of how new species come into existence. During the 150 years following the publication of Darwin’s book, many of the world’s greatest biologists suspected that the Solomon Islands – a remote, volcanic archipelago in the South Pacific – would hold the key to understanding this biological mystery.
Uy’s research focuses on birds called Monarch Flycatchers, which differ in color and song from one tiny island to the next. The very same group of birds caught the attention —> Read More