Researcher proves one of Darwin’s evolution theory

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on March 19, 2020

A new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge confirmed one of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution as in his book the ‘On the Origins of Species’ after over 140 years since his death, according to research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Laura van Holstein, a PhD student in Biological Anthropology at St. John's College, University of Cambridge is the lead author of the research, the findings of which were published on Wednesday.

The research delves deeper into Darwin’s theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ and the role of sub-species in evolution.

Darwin’s book ‘On the Origins of Species’ which came out in November 1859, almost 150 years ago, highlighted the importance of subspecies in evolution. According to the theory, the species which leaves most copies of itself in successive generations i.e. the species with the most number of subspecies is bound to survive the longest.

It included the suggestion that an animal species with greater diversity in its line will produce more subspecies. The theory was proven for birds a few years ago. Van Holstein’s research confirmed that the same stands true for mammals as well. She discovered that mammal subspecies play a more important role in evolution than previously thought.

She confirmed the theory based on data gathered by naturalists over hundreds of years prior to Darwin’s famous visit to the Galapagos Islands on-board HMS Beagle. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published after Darwin had returned home from a five-year journey of discovery. In the book, Darwin had argued that organisms gradually evolved through a process called ‘natural selection’ – often known as survival of the fittest, a theory considered quite controversial at the time.

In an official release published on the University's website, Van Holstein said: “We are standing on the shoulders of giants. In Chapter 3 of On the Origin of Species Darwin said animal lineages with more species should also contain more ‘varieties’. Subspecies is a modern definition. My research investigating the relationship between species and the variety of subspecies proves that sub-species play a critical role in long-term evolutionary dynamics and in the future evolution of species. And they always have, which is what Darwin suspected when he was defining what a species actually was.”

The study also proved that owing to the differences in their habitats, evolution happens differently in land mammals (terrestrial) and sea mammals and bats (non-terrestrial). It also explored whether subspecies could be considered an early stage of the formation of a new species to which van Holstein said: “The answer was yes. But evolution isn’t determined by the same factors in all groups and for the first time we know why because we’ve looked at the strength of the relationship between species richness and subspecies richness.”

She aims to use her findings to further research and predict which species conservationists should focus on protecting to stop them from becoming endangered or extinct.

Published on March 19, 2020

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