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Darwin's Finches Face Extinction, Study

Update Date: Dec 18, 2015 01:36 PM EST

With mathematical simulations, researchers from The University of Utah show how parasitic flies can lead towards the extinction of Darwin's finches in the Galapagos Islands. They also believe that "pest-control" efforts might still help to save the unique birds that triggered the theory of evolution.

Dale Clayton, who is the senior author of the study, explains that "the fly has the potential to drive populations of the most common species of Darwin's finch to extinction in several decades." He adds that their "mathematical model also shows that a modest reduction in the prevalence of the fly - through human intervention and management - would alleviate the extinction risk," according to a press release.

Their methods include introducing "fly-parasitizing wasps" into the ecosystem, hand-rearing chicks outside their nests and employing the right pesticides for the activity.

The researchers gathered information over five years on fly damage due to finch reproduction. They combined this with other information using mathematical modeling. It helped them to work out how the finches could survive in a fly-infested nest and what their influence would be on "population growth and survival".

"In two of the three scenarios tested, our model predicted that medium ground finch populations on the island of Santa Cruz were declining and at risk of extinction within the next century," the researchers concluded.

Darwin's finches were important for innovating the theory of evolution because he recorded the "varying beak and body sizes between species".

"Darwin's finches are one of the best examples we have of speciation," said Jennifer Koop, first author of the study. "They were important to Darwin because they helped him develop his theory of evolution by natural selection."

The findings were published in the Dec. 18 issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology.

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