Hummingbirds visited nearly 70 times more often after scientists altered the color of a kind of monkeyflower from pink – beloved by bees but virtually ignored by hummingbirds – to a hummer-attractive yellow-orange.
Researchers writing in the Nov. 13 issue of Nature say perhaps it was a major change or two, such as petal color, that first forged the fork in the evolutionary road that led to todays species of monkeyflowers that are attractive to and pollinated by hummingbirds and separate species of monkeyflowers that are pollinated by bees.
The color change is the result, it appears, of mutation in a single gene, according to H.D. "Toby" Bradshaw, a professor of biology at the University of Washington and lead author of the Nature piece. He says the resulting quick change in pollinator preferences adds to the debate over whether new species arise according to the classic, 150-year-old Darwin theory of evolution that says it may take a hundred small genetic changes, each with mounting effect, or might speciation be kick-started by a few mutations that cause large effects.
Sandra Hines | EurekAlert!
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