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Biodiversity itself begets a species cascade, researchers say
Date:2/11/2009

EAST LANSING, Mich. Biodiversity feeds on itself, researchers found, as evolving animals open niches for other new species. Such is the case, says a Michigan State University researcher, with a parasite found to be evolving in sequence with an emerging host insect in western Michigan apple trees.

A new species of fruit fly has evolved after changing its mating behavior to favor laying eggs on apples instead of its characteristic hawthorn tree fruit host, MSU entomologist James J. Smith and colleagues reported. As those flies became genetically different from the parent hawthorn fly, so did the parasitic wasps that prey on the flies' larvae.

Apples have grown in the New World for just 250 years, demonstrating how quickly new niches can become occupied. The team's research is published as part of the cover story in the Feb. 6 issue of Science magazine, a top industry publication published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The research comes to light, appropriately, as the world this week celebrates the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin, the English naturalist who first described modern notions of speciation in "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life."

"It makes sense that biodiversity would beget biodiversity," acknowledged Smith, who is an associate professor of biology in Lyman Briggs College, MSU's interdisciplinary science undergraduate program, and in the MSU Department of Entomology.

"What is really difficult, though, is to find hard evidence that this is what has occurred or is occurring. That is one of the real strengths of this paper. The study has large sample sizes and analyzes these organisms at a relatively high number of chromosome positions, or genetic loci," he said.

The idea that there are "speciation cascades" provides a new perspective to address some longstanding
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Contact: James J. Smith
jimsmith@msu.edu
517-353-3939
Michigan State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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