Birds Break Evolution Stories
Evolutionary theory is not just for the birds.
The birds actively challenge Darwinism
The Bizarre Bird That’s Breaking the Tree of Life (The New Yorker, 15 July 2022).
Reporter Ben Crair tells about a one-of-a-kind species from South America called the hoatzin. Creationists have discussed this bird for many years as a species that defies evolution. Evolutionists don’t know how to classify this strange bird. It just appears in its South American continent without a clear relationship to other birds.
Hoatzins, which live along oxbow lakes in tropical South America, have blood-red eyes, blue cheeks, and crests of spiky auburn feathers. Their chicks have primitive claws on their tiny wings and respond to danger by plunging into water and then clawing their way back to their nests—a trait that inspired some ornithologists to link them to dinosaurs. Other taxonomists argued that the hoatzin is closely related to pheasants, cuckoos, pigeons, and a group of African birds called turacos. Alejandro Grajal, the director of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, said that the bird looks like a “punk-rock chicken,” and smells like manure because it digests leaves through bacterial fermentation, similar to a cow.
It’s not just an oddball like a bird version of a platypus. Evolutionists can’t fit this bird into a phylogenetic tree. Crair says that the failure points to deep problems with Darwin’s view of nature as a branching tree of life.
DNA research has not solved the mysteries of the hoatzin; it has deepened them. One 2014 analysis suggested that the bird’s closest living relatives are cranes and shorebirds such as gulls and plovers. Another, in 2020, concluded that this clumsy flier is a sister species to a group that includes tiny, hovering hummingbirds and high-speed swifts. “Frankly, there is no one in the world who knows what hoatzins are,” Cracraft, who is now a member of B10K, said. The hoatzin may be more than a missing piece of the evolutionary puzzle. It may be a sphinx with a riddle that many biologists are reluctant to consider: What if the pattern of evolution is not actually a tree?
Crair continues his demolition derby on Darwin trees. He says that “tree thinking” has become so ingrained in biological training that many scientists are unable to think outside the box. The hoatzin, he says, is just one of many examples, like convergent evolution and rampant hybridization, that are unraveling the tree picture and replacing it with a reticulate or “network” picture of animal relationships.
In the end, though, Crair cannot let Darwin doubters gloat. He suggests that Darwin’s metaphor of an “entangled bank” of organisms on the last page of the Origin still honors the father of evolutionary theory, even as his tree metaphor unravels.
Darwin ended “On the Origin of Species” with a famous description of “an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth.” Molecular biologists hoped that genes would reveal the true and final shape of Darwin’s tree. Instead, they found a new kind of entangled bank, in which species are connected in unexpected ways. “There is grandeur in this view of life,” Darwin wrote of his scene. There is grandeur, too, in the view of life that is encoded in DNA.
At Evolution News on 18 July 2022, David Klinghoffer dredged up old Darwinian arguments that maybe the hoatzins rafted over to South America, since they seem incapable of flying long distances. His article begins with a photo of the ‘punk-rock chicken’ if you’d like to see one.
Penguins Are Among the World’s Slowest-Evolving Birds: Study (The Scientist, 19 July 2022).
This article by Catherine Offord illustrates three trends in Darwin-Only science writing: (1) every observation must fit Darwinism somehow; (2) evolution is slow except when it is fast; and (3) every news item must make readers worry about climate change. Her subtitle reads, “The findings mean that penguins may struggle to adapt under rapid climate change, researchers say”—which is an odd thing to say, since presumably climate change made the penguins adapt quickly before. She can always blame the researchers. ‘They said it; not me.’
The study [prepare to be hoodwinked] revealed that penguin evolution was driven by changes in climate, and ocean currents….
“As ice volumes increased during the [last glacial period,] high-latitude penguin species were likely forced into isolated mid-latitude refugia,” the authors write in their paper. “As climate warmed from the late Pleistocene to Holocene, these species moved back towards the poles, recolonizing landmasses and islands as they became habitable once again, and, notably, experiencing secondary contact with one another.”
Offord continues raising the perhapsimaybecouldness index:
It’s not clear exactly what caused penguin evolution to decelerate to the extent that it did. While the birds’ large size and slow reproduction may play some role, “we would never have guessed that would have the slowest rate yet seen in birds,” study coauthor Daniel Ksepka of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, tells the UK Natural History Museum (NHM) news site.
The researchers note that penguins’ sister group, the Procellariiformes—which includes albatrosses and other seabirds—also have low evolutionary rates compared with those of other avian orders, suggesting there might be “a gradual slowdown associated with increasingly aquatic ecology,” they write in their paper.
“It’s a topic that certainly warrants more investigation to try and discover why this occurs,” Ksepka tells NHM.
Keep the money flowing. The storytellers need job security. The public won’t mind. They’ll keep paying taxes oblivious to how scientists are spending it, and will quickly forget if the investigations never provide the promised clarity about why evolution slows down and speeds up. Meanwhile the scientists will keep them worried about climate change.
Today, penguins are again under threat from climate change. The scientists say this research into understanding how past climate events impacted past population sizes is crucial in helping us understand how their populations may respond to future climate change.
We can’t have penguins go extinct on our watch! But what’s the problem? Copepods manage. They go with the climate flow rapidly (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 14 July 2022). And the British Antarctic Survey (19 July 2022) says that they don’t even need cold weather to thrive. They already have the genes to adapt.
“Although when most people think of penguins, they picture them among ice floes and being chased by leopard seals, penguins evolved to be aquatic creatures before the polar ice sheets formed! Over time, they evolved characteristics that allowed them to colonise a wide range of marine environments from the tropics to Antarctica. This paper provides a step change in our understanding of which genes underpin these different adaptations.”
Rapid adaptive radiation of Darwin’s finches depends on ancestral genetic modules (Science Magazine, 8 July 2022).
The Darwin Party has spent so much time on “Darwin’s finches” and printed so many diagrams in school textbooks, it really gets tiring to talk about them again. Now, however, the whole iconic story seems to be unraveling. Using genetic comparisons, this team found that all the finches had “ancestral genetic modules” for adaptation before they even moved to the Galapagos Islands.
This implies that their diversification is not a classic case of mutation and natural selection as Darwin and his disciples imagined. Instead, existing genetic information, which they characterize as “evolvability” and “phenotypic plasticity” was sorted out among populations as they found themselves faced with limited food supplies on different islands.
Here, we present a high-quality chromosome-scale reference genome and leverage a natural scaling transformation in beak size across three species of ground finches (Geospiza) to identify 28 loci under selection. We show that the origin of these haplotype blocks linked to phenotypic divergence predates speciation events. These genetic modules have been reused over the past million years, were exchanged by gene flow, and contributed to the rapid phenotypic evolution and speciation among Darwin’s finches.
The implications of this view are profound. It means that no new genetic information “emerged” by random variation, nor was it “selected” by the environment. The information was already there; it’s been reused and shared by “gene flow” (hybridization and introgression). If so, this supports the engineering-based view of the Institute for Creation Research, where internal information with foresight—not external “forcing” by the environment—determines the traits of species inhabiting differing environments.
Songbird Can Keep Time With the Best of Them (Texas Geosciences, 19 July 2022).
After watching the embedded video in this press article, you may feel that the featured species—the scaly-breasted wren from Central America—is not the Pavarotti of birdsong. Its simple whistle-like notes amount to nothing as complex as the songs of cactus wrens, lyrebirds or western meadowlarks. What’s remarkable, the ornithologists claim, is the precise time spacing between the notes. The intervals grow longer through the sequence, then the bird starts over from the top.
In laboratory experiments, most animals — including humans — have difficulty determining how much time has passed after just a second or two. In general, the longer an interval of time, the worse animals are at estimating its passage.
But for the wild wrens, 43% of the songs (10 out of the 23 songs that met the requirements for evaluation) consistently kept time for the duration of the song, with the intervals holding the established pattern even as the pauses increased in length.
For two of those songs, the accuracy of the wren was higher than that of the average professional musician.
Darwin makes a surprise appearance. “Clarke, an expert on evolution of bird vocalization in both living and extinct species, said the research demonstrates the importance of turning to nature to study birds in their natural environments.”
We agree that scientists need to get out and study nature as it is, not just do lab experiments in artificial settings. But what’s evolution got to do with it? Did Julia Clarke give any empirical evidence that bird vocalization evolved? Does she have any recordings of the songs of “extinct species”?
Maybe she was inspired by mountain man Jim Bridger, who also specialized in telling tall tales long before Darwin got into the comedy act. Bridger once told about the petrified forests in Yellowstone, claiming they had petrified birds singing petrified songs. We’d like to see Clarke do some field work and bring back the evidence before listening to her tall tale about the “evolution of bird vocalization.”
Yes, Julia, tell us about doves and how their superfast muscles evolved that control their cooing (8 Sept 2004).