23
Fri, Feb

University of Florida study: Bird evolves virtually overnight to keep up with invasive prey

Typography

The federally endangered bird, the snail kite, was faced with an interesting dilemma: The island apple snail was good to eat, but about two to five times bigger than the native snail that the bird usually consumed. What’s a hungry bird to do? Evolve – quickly.

A study by a team of University of Florida researchers has found that in about 10 years, the snail kite has evolved to develop a larger beak as its new prey, the island apple snail, proliferated and became invasive. The study is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The federally endangered bird, the snail kite, was faced with an interesting dilemma: The island apple snail was good to eat, but about two to five times bigger than the native snail that the bird usually consumed. What’s a hungry bird to do? Evolve – quickly.

A study by a team of University of Florida researchers has found that in about 10 years, the snail kite has evolved to develop a larger beak as its new prey, the island apple snail, proliferated and became invasive. The study is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

“Beak size had been increasing every year since the invasion of the snail from about 2007,” said Robert Fletcher, associate professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation, par of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “At first, we thought the birds were learning how to handle snails better or perhaps learning to forage on the smaller, younger individual snails. We needed to know if the birds had evolved or if they had just learned to handle the snails better.”

From approximately 2000 to 2007, the snail kite experienced major population declines, and there were mounting concerns that the bird was near extinction, Fletcher said. Nonetheless, over the next few years, the snail kite’s population started rebounding, he said.

 

Continue reading at University of Florida.

Image via University of Florida.