Charles Darwin, the founder of the modern theory of evolution, was an avid proponent of sympatric speciation, the idea that a single species need not be geographically divided in order to evolve into two separate species. In the mid-20th century, however, certain vocal scientists convinced the scientific community that geographically isolating two halves of a population was a necessary factor in creating a new species. It wasn’t until the last few decades that modern biologists began to reexamine Darwin’s ideas to discover that he may have been quite right all along. Now the theory behind one such idea is undergoing its most exhaustive test yet at the University of Rochester.
James D. Fry, assistant professor of biology, is running fruit flies through a series of tests to see if a few, subtle changes in the flies’ environment could be enough to trigger the creation of a new species.
"For a long time there has been speculation that small differences in the environment coupled with small differences in the way organisms behave could lead to speciation without any other external factors," says Fry. "This is this first time this idea has been tested in the same way it might happen in nature. If we can get the flies to start exhibiting changes with these tests, then it’s very likely that it can happen easily in nature."
Jonathan Sherwood | EurekAlert!
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