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Adaptation and diversification on islands

Abstract

Charles Darwin's travels on HMS Beagle taught him that islands are an important source of evidence for evolution. Because many islands are young and have relatively few species, evolutionary adaptation and species proliferation are obvious and easy to study. In addition, the geographical isolation of many islands has allowed evolution to take its own course, free of influence from other areas, resulting in unusual faunas and floras, often unlike those found anywhere else. For these reasons, island research provides valuable insights into speciation and adaptive radiation, and into the relative importance of contingency and determinism in evolutionary diversification.

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Figure 1: Evolutionary diversification and adaptive radiation in the Galapagos Islands.
Figure 2: Distribution of beak shapes in passerine birds, illustrating the tremendous diversification of morphology in Hawaiian honeycreepers.
Figure 3: Two variants of a model of allopatric speciation and subsequent sympatry in an archipelago.
Figure 4: Independent evolution of a set of Anolis lizard habitat specialists in the Greater Antilles.

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Acknowledgements

For comments on drafts, we thank A. Berry, R. Gillespie, R. Glor, P. Grant, L. Harmon, C. Parent, T. Price, D. Schluter and R. Whittaker. The National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution have supported our research on island faunas. We are also grateful to numerous individuals and governmental institutions throughout the West Indies for logistical and other support in the field.

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Correspondence should be addressed to J.B.L. (jlosos@oeb.harvard.edu).

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Losos, J., Ricklefs, R. Adaptation and diversification on islands. Nature 457, 830–836 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07893

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