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Same Traits, Different Island: Study Highlights Evolution Quirks


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An all-black Chestnut-bellied Flycatcher found on small satellite islands to the north and southeast of the island of Makira in the Solomon Island chain.

“Clearly there’s something advantageous about having all-black plumage,” said Cornell Lab of Ornithology evolutionary geneticist Leonardo Campagna.

Credit: Al Uy/University of Rochester

Researchers at Cornell University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory used machine learning to find out why two populations of flycatchers that evolved on different Solomon Islands separately developed all-black plumage.

An algorithm helped the researchers quantify mutation patterns in the flycatcher family tree.

Explained Cornell's Leonardo Campagna, "We train the computer to recognize specific evolutionary patterns for when a particular genetic trait started, how strong natural or sexual selection was, and how quickly it moved through a population.

"We can then ask the trained algorithm to tell us the most likely scenario that generated the data that we observe in the present populations. It's like going back in time."

From Cornell Chronicle
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