Evolution in Real Time Reveals How Animals Evolve in the Wild

First Posted: Sep 15, 2015 12:57 PM EDT

Imagine watching evolution in real time. That's what a group of researchers are doing in an ongoing effort the record the interaction of the environment and evolution. They've monitored a population of guppies in order to better understand the process of evolution.

"We're detailing how evolution happens," said David Reznick, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Usually people look at evolution as change over time but they don't know the details of how it changes."

The new work is actually part of research that Reznick has been doing since 1978. This research involved transplanting guppies from a river with a diverse community of predators into a river with no predators, except for one other fish species. Then, he recorded how the guppies evolved and how they might impact their environment.

The scientists actually used scales from the guppies to archive their DNA. They took several samples from the population, and tracked the guppies' differential success in reproducing and surviving.

"We could look at their appearance as see how male color pattern affected their ability to make babies or to survive," said Reznick. "We used the DNA from the scales to identify who their parents were. That means we could reconstruct their pedigree and eventually know over time their success for contributing offspring."

The researchers found that males with more or larger orange and black spots produced more offspring. With that said, males with black spots also had a larger risk of morality.

"People think of evolution as historical," said Reznick. "They don't think of it as something that's happening under our nose. It is a contemporary process. People are skeptical; they don't believe in evolution because they can't see it. Here, we see it. We can see if something makes you better able to make babies and live longer. People look at the genetics of aging in mice and apply that to humans. But those mice are in a lab. Results from studying animals in captivity may not be the same as you get when you look at an animal in nature."

The findings reveal a bit more about the evolution of these fish. More specifically, they show the process of evolution in general in the wild.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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