Humans helped vultures colonize the Canary Islands

Dec 13, 2010

The Egyptian vulture population of the Canary Islands was established following the arrival of the first human settlers who brought livestock to the islands. A genetic comparison of Iberian and Canarian birds, published in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, found that the Egyptian vulture population in the Canary Islands was likely established around 2500 years ago – around the same time as humans began to colonise the islands.

Rosa Agudo worked with a team of researchers from the Doñana Biological Station, Seville, Spain, to investigate genetic and morphological changes between 143 Iberian and 242 from Fuerteventura, one of the . She said, "We found that the island vultures are significantly heavier and larger than those from Iberia. The establishment of this insular population took place some 2500 years ago, matching the date of human colonization. Our results suggest that human activity can trigger divergent evolution and that this process may take place on a relatively brief time scale".

The authors suggest that before the arrival of humans, the Canary Islands would not have been able to support vultures, as food resources would have been scarce, consisting only of the remains of seabirds and sea mammals, or of rodents. They say, "The introduction of new and abundant food sources by humans could have allowed not only colonization by vultures, but also their demographic expansion and their putative adaptation to the new island environment". For once, human activity has actually assisted in the diversification and adaptation of the Egyptian vulture, now globally threatened and classified as 'Endangered' on the IUCN Red List.

Explore further: Prehistoric conflict hastened human brain's capacity for collaboration, study says

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Red List overlooks island species

Jul 24, 2009

The criteria of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List are an essential tool for evaluating the conservation status of species around the planet, and according to these criteria ...

Scavenger birds chew the fat

Sep 08, 2008

Humans aren't the only ones who like fatty foods - bearded vultures do, too. A study by Antoni Margalida from the Bearded Vulture Study and Protection Group in El Pont de Suert, Spain, has found that the bearded vulture will ...

Invasive species threaten Canary Islands

Aug 29, 2006

The Canary Islands are reportedly being endangered by an invasion of foreign species that are overtaking the islands' unique plant and animal life.

Recommended for you

Parasitic worm genomes: largest-ever dataset released

19 hours ago

The largest collection of helminth genomic data ever assembled has been published in the new, open-access WormBase-ParaSite. Developed jointly by EMBL-EBI and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, this new ...

Male sex organ distinguishes 30 millipede species

19 hours ago

The unique shapes of male sex organs have helped describe thirty new millipede species from the Great Western Woodlands in the Goldfields, the largest area of relatively undisturbed Mediterranean climate ...

How can we avoid kelp beds turning into barren grounds?

23 hours ago

Urchins are marine invertebrates that mould the biological richness of marine grounds. However, an excessive proliferation of urchins may also have severe ecological consequences on marine grounds as they ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.