Researchers observe evolution chain reaction

February 5, 2009,
A female apple maggot fly, Rhagoletis pomonella, implants an egg into an apple. Wasps that attack the flies and eat their larvae appear to be changing on a genetic level in the same way that the flies themselves appear to be changing genetically. Credit: Rob Oakleaf

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of researchers are reporting the ongoing emergence of a new species of fruit fly--and the sequential development of a new species of wasp--in the February 6 issue of the journal Science.

Jeff Feder, a University of Notre Dame biologist, and his colleagues say the introduction of apples to America almost 400 years ago ultimately may have changed the behavior of a fruit fly, leading to its modification and the subsequent modification of a parasitic wasp that feeds on it.

The result is a chain reaction of biodiversity where the modification of one species triggers the sequential modification of a second, dependent species. The National Science Foundation supports the research.

"It's a nice demonstration of how the initial speciation of one organism opens up an opportunity for another species in the ecosystem to speciate in kind," said Feder. "Biodiversity in essence is the source for new biodiversity."

View video: nsfgov.http.internapcdn.net/ns … stream_com/feder.swf


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For almost 250 years after the introduction of apples to North America, insects referred to as hawthorn flies, Rhagoletis pomonella, continued to meet on the small, red fruit of hawthorn trees to mate and lay eggs. Then, in the mid-1800s, some of these "hawthorn flies" began to mate and lay eggs on apples instead. According to Feder, the flies attracted to apples eventually became genetically differentiated from the flies attracted to hawthorns, and so did the wasps that live on the flies' larvae.

The genetic distinctions mainly show up as gene frequency differences between the flies and their associated wasp populations rather than fixed, all or none, differences. This is consistent with the process by which new biological species arise.

"The Diachasma alloeum wasp that we studied is just one of several wasps that spend a significant portion of their lives attached to hawthorn and apple flies," said Feder. "We have preliminary evidence that one of the other wasps also may be forming specialized races on the flies, but it is too early to tell definitively."

"What is startling is how fast populations can ecologically adapt to new habitats and begin to evolve into different species in front of our eyes," he said.

Feder says the research is important because it provides insights into solving Darwin's mystery of the origins of new species. "Clues can be found right before us as we sit on our deck chairs barbecuing and drinking pop. All we have to do is open our eyes and we can see new life forms coming into being in that scraggly old apple tree in our backyard."

Source: National Science Foundation

Explore further: The apple maggot fly—how an altered sense of smell could drive the formation of new species

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9 comments

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Szkeptik
3 / 5 (2) Feb 05, 2009
But the fruit fly didn't become a dog so evolution is a myth. /sarcasm
thales
1 / 5 (1) Feb 05, 2009
Right, this puts to rest the creationist argument that macroevolution has not been observed.
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Feb 06, 2009
Even Darwin wasn't willing to leave God entirely out of the equation in his theorem. Anyone who has read "The Origin of Species" knows at least that much.
pseudophonist
5 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2009
dachpyarvile: That Darwin wasn't willing to leave God out of the equation shows that he was a religious man, not that evolution requires God. You imply a fallacy.
Geggamojja
not rated yet Feb 06, 2009
All Darwin said was god _may_ have started it all, that events in the material world are brought about "by the establishment of general laws" rather than by individual miracles.
raron
4 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2009
I'm glad I like green apples:p

Sorry I don't have any more educated comment here. Also, bring back the black background please, or at least a switch or stored in preferences in the profile. Luckily I have just that, a switch (java-applet) but still, annoying to always switch it manually. White pages are an eye-strain!
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Feb 06, 2009
dachpyarvile: That Darwin wasn't willing to leave God out of the equation shows that he was a religious man, not that evolution requires God. You imply a fallacy.


Ummm...Where did I state that evolution required God? Nowhere here. I merely stated the fact that even Darwin was not willing to discard the idea entirely. That is fact, not fallacy.
lengould100
1 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2009
White pages are an eye-strain!


What sort of eyes have your species evolved?
dachpyarvile
not rated yet Feb 06, 2009
All Darwin said was god _may_ have started it all, that events in the material world are brought about "by the establishment of general laws" rather than by individual miracles.


Yes, I understand fully regarding what Darwin wrote. I have no disagreement with that stance. All I said was that Darwin was not willing to throw God under the proverbial bus--in so many words. But, one who believes in God might say that the natural law was set up by God in the first place and that evolution ran its course.

I have said nothing more nor less other than the fact that even Darwin did not exclude God entirely from the equation. I am aware of what Darwin wrote and agree with it. I do not believe that each species exists due to individual Divine Fiat, either.

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