The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

The animals of the Galapagos Islands are famous for some of the most unique in the world. With a high number of endemic species, wildlife vacations in the Galapagos offer nature lovers a glimpse of true evolutionary microcosms. Many species have adapted to this unique and remote environment by developing characteristics that enable them to survive in harsh and diverse conditions. Of all the species, though, few adapt to unusual ways like non-flying birds. The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight
Flight cormoran

On his exploration of the archipelago, the naturalist Charles Darwin was fascinated by the discovery of a cormorant with wings so that it was not proportional to its size so it could not fly. At that time, Darwin was formulating his amazing theory of evolution and natural selection, and he believed that environmental change could result in the loss of birds’ ability to fly. In modern studies of bird DNA, scientists have discovered that, more than two million years ago, it also underwent genetic changes, resulting in a small wing that made it impossible to fly. The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

Story Two Halves

While Darwin observes that many evolutionary changes occur in the archipelago that can contribute to the process of natural selection of the species, scientists have gone a long way to deciphering changes in birds at the molecular level. The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

Characterized by its short, thin wings, this is the largest of all world cormorants, and the only one of 40 species that can not fly. However, this is a very strong swimmer, and capable of diving for fish. From his observation of this characteristic, Darwin hypothesized that, with the loss of flight, the bird had developed another skill that enabled it to survive – a process now known as positive selection.

Another possibility is that birds lose their ability to fly just because they have no predators to escape, and they do not need to migrate to breed. It is also possible that the change occurred as a result of a combination of these two reasons.

Through a project in which relationships are found between genetic changes in bird DNA and changes in the structure of certain proteins in the body, scientists identify the existence of a gene called CUX1. The gene structure in the cormoran from the archipelago is different from other species capable of flying, so scientists can conclude that its existence alters the function of certain proteins, which affect the size of the wings. They also found that bird DNA showed high mutations affecting the cilia, which play an important role in the development of skeletal and bone growth. The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

Research into whether genetic mutations of the non-operable cormorants shared by other non-flying birds is under way, but the same type of genetic change has been found to cause problems in the development of the human skeleton. Findings from the work of researchers with birds have the potential to lead to new treatments for serious bone disorders in humans.

Discover the unique Cormorent Flightless Cormorant on Holidays in the Galapagos

For those visiting the wildlife resort of Galapagos, more than 1,000 pairs of birds can be seen on the islands of Isabela and Fernandina. They can be observed diving for food around the ocean, using their muscular feet to push them down into the water. A growing (and increasing) population is a reminder that, as always, the Universe is full of surprises.