Shop Windows to the Universe

The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
A female apple maggot fly, Rhagoletis pomonella, implants an egg into an apple. Wasps that attack the flies and eat their larvae appear to be changing on a genetic level in the same way that the flies themselves appear to be changing genetically
Click on image for full size
Image Courtesy of Rob Oakleaf

Researchers Observe Evolution Chain Reaction
News story originally written on February 5, 2009

A team of researchersis reporting the ongoing emergence of a new species of fruit fly--and the sequential development of a new species of wasp--in the February 6 issue of the journal Science.

Jeff Feder, a University of Notre Dame biologist, and his colleagues say the introduction of apples to America almost 400 years ago ultimately may have changed the behavior of a fruit fly, leading to its modification and the subsequent modification of a parasitic wasp that feeds on it.

The result is a chain reaction of biodiversity where the modification of one species triggers the sequential modification of a second, dependent species. The National Science Foundation supports the research.

"It's a nice demonstration of how the initial speciation of one organism opens up an opportunity for another species in the ecosystem to speciate in kind," said Feder. "Biodiversity in essence is the source for new biodiversity."

For almost 250 years after the introduction of apples to North America, insects referred to as hawthorn flies, Rhagoletis pomonella, continued to meet on the small, red fruit of hawthorn trees to mate and lay eggs. Then, in the mid-1800s, some of these "hawthorn flies" began to mate and lay eggs on apples instead. According to Feder, the flies attracted to apples eventually became genetically differentiated from the flies attracted to hawthorns, and so did the wasps that live on the flies' larvae.

The genetic distinctions mainly show up as gene frequency differences between the flies and their associated wasp populations rather than fixed, all or none, differences. This is consistent with the process by which new biological species arise.

"The Diachasma alloeum wasp that we studied is just one of several wasps that spend a significant portion of their lives attached to hawthorn and apple flies," said Feder. "We have preliminary evidence that one of the other wasps also may be forming specialized races on the flies, but it is too early to tell definitively."

"What is startling is how fast populations can ecologically adapt to new habitats and begin to evolve into different species in front of our eyes," he said.

Feder says the research is important because it provides insights into solving Darwin's mystery of the origins of new species. "Clues can be found right before us as we sit on our deck chairs barbecuing and drinking pop. All we have to do is open our eyes and we can see new life forms coming into being in that scraggly old apple tree in our backyard."

Notre Dame biologists Andrew Forbes and Tom Powell, along with University of Florida entomologist Lukasz Stelinski and Michigan State University biologist James Smith also worked on this project.

Text above is courtesy of the National Science Foundation

Last modified April 16, 2009 by Becca Hatheway.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes books on science education, classroom activities in The Earth Scientist, mineral and fossil specimens, and educational games!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Biomes and Ecosystems

Biomes are large regions of the world with similar plants, animals, and other living things that are adapted to the climate and other conditions. Explore the links below to learn more about some of the...more

Triggers of Volcanic Eruptions in Oregon's Mount Hood Investigated

A new study has found that a mixing of two different types of magma is the key to the historic eruptions of Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, and that eruptions often happen in a relatively short...more

Oldest Earth Mantle Reservoir Discovered

Researchers have found a primitive Earth mantle reservoir on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. Geologist Matthew Jackson and his colleagues from a multi-institution collaboration report the finding--the...more

Its Not Your Fault A Typical Fault, Geologically Speaking, That Is

Some geologic faults that appear strong and stable, slip and slide like weak faults. Now an international team of researchers has laboratory evidence showing why some faults that 'should not' slip are...more

Extended Period of Lower Solar Activity Linked to Changes in Sun's Conveyor Belt

A new analysis of the unusually long solar cycle that ended in 2008 suggests that one reason for the long cycle could be a stretching of the sun's conveyor belt, a current of plasma that circulates between...more

Growth Spurt in Tree Rings Prompts Questions About Climate Change

Anyone who has ever cut down a tree is familiar with the rings radiating out from the center of a tree trunk marking the tree's age. Careful study of tree rings can offer much more: a rich record of history...more

Did Life First Develop in a Mica Sandwich at the Bottom of a Primordial Sea?

Earth's first life form may have developed between the layers of a chunk of mica sitting like a multilayered sandwich in primordial waters, according to a new hypothesis. The mica hypothesis, which was...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA