Thursday, 5 April 2012

PhD week 5: Adaptive radiation

Hawaiian honeycreepers
Hawaiian honeycreepers. Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Zoo photostream. License: CC: BY-NC-ND

This week has been spent mainly reading about adaptive radiation. Adaptive radiation, according to the definition I find describes it the clearest is:
A proliferation of species within a single clade accompanied by significant interspecific divergence in the kinds of resources exploited and in the morphological and physiological traits used to exploit these resources (Schluter, 1996 in Givnish and Sytsma 2000)
One of the textbook examples of adaptive radiation are the Hawaiian honeycreepers (pictured above). These birds form a natural group, but their feeding habits differ between species, and are wildly different from the finches which are believed to be their nearest relatives. These differences are reflected in the variation which is most evident in the bill shapes of each of the species. A blog post discussing the evolution of the Hawaiian honeycreepers in greater detail has been written by GrrlScientist.

For me, the concept of adaptive radiations is important in providing a framework for my research. This allows questions to be asked, and predictions made, that will give my studies direction and purpose. The study of adaptive radiations also opens our eyes to our dynamic biological systems and organisms can be, and give us an appreciation of the richness of life on this planet.

Among the other things I did this week, was give a talk to some Year 9 students at Lincoln High School about my work as an entomologist, and what sort of things it involves. It was great to present to a class of interested kids, and it was followed by a question time with such queries as the most humane ways to kill insects, the taste of insects and whether they're suitable for vegetarians, and whether or not insects sleep.

Schluter D. 1996. Ecological causes of adaptive radiation. American Naturalist 148:S40–S64.

Givnish TJ, Sytsma KJ (Eds). 2000. Molecular Evolution and Adaptive Radiation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Gillespie RG. 2008. Adaptive radiation. In: Gillespie RG, Clague DA (eds). Encyclopedia of islands Berkeley: University of California press, pp. 1–7

Grant PR, Grant BR. 2008. How and Why Species Multiply. The Radiation of Darwin's Finches. Princeton: Princeton University Press

McCulloch D. 2010. A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years London: Penguin

Kirkpatrick R. 2009. Beyond the Wall of Time. Sydney: Voyager

Psalms 33–36; 104

Evolving Thoughts—Bayes, evolutionary clocks, and biogeography

Gotan Project—La Revancha del Tango

Radio NZ Classics podcast—Brahms Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor Op 25

Facedown Records–Facedown Festival 2011 Sampler

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey movie trailer

Norma Jean—Absentimenal:Street Clam music video

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