Sunday, December 20, 2009

Birdfeeders and Evolution

Domesticated was born largely from my interest in evolution after reading The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. I became fascinated with the concept of evolution in real-time and wanted to explore the grander implications of subtle and gradual human interventions within ecosystems.

We tend to think to think of evolution as something that has happened in the past. We see the animals and plants around us not as agents of genetic flux, but as the finished products of millions of years of selection, adaption, and chance. But the big change engine just keeps rolling and it's happening right in front of our eyes and increasingly by our unintended hand.

Enter the birdfeeder. A staple of gardens across the world and the subject of several images from Domesticated. What most people think of as benign backyard accessory is having a dramatic impact on the evolution of Central European blackcaps. According to a paper from evolutionary researches at the University of Freiborg, birdfeeders have become a major driver of human-induced evolutionary change within the European population of blackcaps.

Historically, blackcaps have flown to Spain for the winter to partake of the warmer climate and eat fruits and berries. Every year a small percentage of blackcaps become disoriented and fly to England. These birds found tough times trying to survive the English winter, but the rise in the number of birdfeeders in the UK is changing everything. Now, the ready supply of food and the short trip is proving to be a survival jackpot for the wayward blackcaps. Even though the Spain-bound blackcaps spend most of the year with their England-bound brothers and sisters, they are becoming two distinct species. This is evolution in real-time.

You can read more about the effect of birdfeeders on the population of blackcaps on my new favorite blog, Next Nature.
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