Fish caught evolving into three different species

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Fish caught evolving into three different species

Post by ziggy on Tue Feb 02, 2010 11:07 am

"King demoiselles are common in shallow waters throughout the region's reefs. The fish are small -- about the size of a human thumb. And they come in a wide range of color patterns, from spotted blue to gray with a big yellow stripe.

Those color variations alone don't necessarily mean much. In plenty of reef species, individual fish can take on a huge variety of appearances. Juveniles often look different from adults. Males might look different from females. While doing other research in the field, though, Drew's colleagues noticed that groups of King demoiselles looked different in different geographical regions.

Wondering if there might be something genetic going on, the researchers sent about a dozen fish samples to Drew in Chicago. The samples were from three separate populations of fish in the South China Sea, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Biodiversity’s winners and losers
There are winners and losers on the racetrack of speciation — the process of species splitting into new species. See which lineages have proved to be a speciation boom or bust.

In his lab, Drew analyzed the samples for three genes — one that has evolved slowly, and two that have changed rapidly through time. His results showed a clear pattern: The genes that have changed quickly look different from one geographical group to the next, indicating that the groups only recently began to split.

"That means that this little fish we thought was broadly distributed has a mosaic of individual populations and each one is genetically distinct," said Drew, whose study has been accepted for publication in the journal Coral Reefs. "That highlights how little we really know about how biodiversity on Earth is distributed."

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