7.4 What is Adaptive Radiation?

During his journey Darwin went to Galapagos Islands. There he observed an amazing diversity of creatures. Of particular interest, small black birds later called Darwin’s Finches amazed him. He realised that there were many varieties of finches in the same island.

All the varieties, he conjectured, evolved on the island itself. From the original seed-eating features, many other forms with altered beaks arose, enabling them to become insectivorous and vegetarian finches.

This process of evolution of different species in a given geographical area starting from a point and literally radiating to other areas of geography (habitats) is called adaptive radiation. Darwin’s finches represent one of the best examples of this phenomenon. Another example is Australian marsupials.

A number of marsupials, each different from the other (Figure 7.6) evolved from an ancestral stock, but all within the Australian island continent. When more than one adaptive radiation appeared to have occurred in an isolated geographical area (representing different habitats), one can call this convergent evolution.

Placental mammals in Australia also exhibit adaptive radiation in evolving into varieties of such placental mammals each of which appears to be ‘similar’ to a corresponding marsupial (e.g., Placental wolf and Tasmanian wolfmarsupial).

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