How an island of mice is changing what we know about evolution

How an island of mice is changing what we know about evolution

Evolution takes time and space. Enough time needs to pass for genetic differences to crop up in a population of animals and make them distinct from their forebears. And enough space is needed to stop interbreeding between populations from ironing out these differences. But just how much space is needed for species to diversify? Scientists have been puzzling over this question for decades, and it’s one that has taken on increasing importance as human-driven habitat loss constricts the ranges of the world’s wildlife. In their quest to solve this mystery, researchers from institutions in the U.S. have been scouting the globe for the smallest island that supports multiple lineages of mammals evolved from a common ancestor. And in a new study published recently in the Journal of Biogeography, they describe such a place – an island in the Philippines with a unique array of worm-eating mice. From one species to four At around 10,000 square kilometers (4,000 square miles) Mindoro is about the size of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. and represents a big step down from the previous record-holder, Luzon. Also in the Philippines, Luzon is the country’s largest island and about 10 times the size of Mindoro, which lies just across the Verde Island Passage strait. Montane rainforest on Mindoro. Photo by L.R. Heaney / The Field Museum When the researchers surveyed the mammals of Mindoro’s forests, they discovered four distinct species of earthworm mice. Nested within the genus Apomys, earthworm mice are found only in the…

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