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Predictable evolution toward flightlessness in volant island birds [PNAS]

Keywords : bird, islands, morphology, flight, island rule

par Frédéric Magné - publié le

Birds are prolific colonists of islands, where they readily evolve distinct forms. Identifying predictable, directional patterns of evolutionary change in island birds, however, has proved challenging. The “island rule” predicts that island species evolve toward intermediate sizes, but its general applicability to birds is questionable. However, convergent evolution has clearly occurred in the island bird lineages that have undergone transitions to secondary flightlessness, a process involving drastic reduction of the flight muscles and enlargement of the hindlimbs. Here, we investigated whether volant island bird populations tend to change shape in a way that converges subtly on the flightless form. We found that island bird species have evolved smaller flight muscles than their continental relatives. Furthermore, in 366 populations of Caribbean and Pacific birds, smaller flight muscles and longer legs evolved in response to increasing insularity and, strikingly, the scarcity of avian and mammalian predators.(...)

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