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What vibrant pigments of bird feathers can teach us about how evolution works

April 25, 2019 Science 2 Views All living things exist within communities, where they depend on resources or services provided by other species. As community members change, so do the products the species depend on and share. The late George Gaylord Simpson, who was a professor of geosciences at the UA and one of the most influential evolutionary thinkers of the last century, proposed that these fluctuating dependencies should determine the speed of evolution. The theory has been notoriously difficult to test because species interactions are both ubiquitous and ephemeral, said UA ecology and evolutionary biology professor Alexander Badyaev. But he and his team think they've found a way of examining evolution of biochemical pathways that produce color diversity in birds. Badyaev and his co-authors showed that the way biochemical processes are structured in birds holds the key to understanding how. species gain and lose their reliance on others in their communities. So, this dictates how quickly species can diversify and evolve. The new study, which was published in Nature Communications earlier this month, both confirms this prediction and reveals the mechanisms that show how it works. 1 9659005] Badyaev studied the pathways at which birds convert dietary carotenoids into molecules necessary for everything from vision to immune system to feather pigmentation. The team which included undergraduate and graduate students, and a postdoctoral fellow in Badyaev's lab , built and tested the thousands of carotenoid biochemical pathways in nearly 300 bird species. "Think about hanging by a cliff. With one…

All living things exist within communities, where they depend on resources or services provided by other species. As community members change, so do the products the species depend on and share. The late George Gaylord Simpson, who was a professor of geosciences at the UA and one of the most influential evolutionary thinkers of the last century, proposed that these fluctuating dependencies should determine the speed of evolution.

The theory has been notoriously difficult to test because species interactions are both ubiquitous and ephemeral, said UA ecology and evolutionary biology professor Alexander Badyaev. But he and his team think they’ve found a way of examining evolution of biochemical pathways that produce color diversity in birds.

Badyaev and his co-authors showed that the way biochemical processes are structured in birds holds the key to understanding how. species gain and lose their reliance on others in their communities. So, this dictates how quickly species can diversify and evolve.

The new study, which was published in Nature Communications earlier this month, both confirms this prediction and reveals the mechanisms that show how it works. 1

9659005] Badyaev studied the pathways at which birds convert dietary carotenoids into molecules necessary for everything from vision to immune system to feather pigmentation.

The team which included undergraduate and graduate students, and a postdoctoral fellow in Badyaev’s lab , built and tested the thousands of carotenoid biochemical pathways in nearly 300 bird species.

“Think about hanging by a cliff. With one rope, if it disappears, you die. If you have two and one fails, you get to live. But having a third you can make something out of the first two — like a ladder — and take control of your trajectory while the stability lasts, ”Badyaev said.

His team found that when species temporarily internalize control over their carotenoid production by capitalizing on multiple sources of carotenoids, they evolve to exceptionally high rates and produce some of the most extravagantly colored birds in the world.

“But you are susceptible to new external controls, and then the cycle repeats itself, “he said.” This is because both gains and losses of external controls occur with equal frequencies. “

This research builds on both Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and Simpson’s idea that or ganism’s evolution is dependent on others in their community.

“It shows how adaptation and evolutionary change are linked mechanistically,” Badyaev said. “It shows why gaining and losing internal control is a key feature of evolution.”


How do birds get their colors?


More information:
Alexander V. Badyaev et al., Cycles of external dependency drive of avian carotenoid networks, Nature Communications (2019). DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-019-09579-y

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What the vibrant pigments of bird feathers can teach us about how evolution works (2019, April 24)
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