In the incredibly biodiverse Galápagos Islands, Dr. Luis Fernando De León studies the evolution of the iconic Darwin’s finches.
What Fascinates You about Darwin’s Finches?
“They are a living example of evolution. You can almost feel it when looking at the perfect gradation in beak sizes and shapes, which are finely adapted to exploit a diversity of food resources. One look at these birds hopping on the lava, and you will understand Darwin's inspiration when he wrote, ‘From an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.’ They are the perfect study system to learn about evolution and the struggle for existence.”
A great moment in the field:
“I was amazed by uniqueness of the Galápagos the first time I set foot there. The intense heat and dryness of the Islands made me wonder what kind of life could survive in such a world. The harsh environment was filled with funny-looking spiny cacti, like a vision of a different planet. From these cacti, intrepid finches emerged, singing and dancing. Each of them was performing, with their own style, a different version of the same song to attract females to their nests, which were perched on the shoulders of the opuntia cacti. After hours of desperate singing and dancing, only one male succeeded. This was a clear vision of the working of evolution, one that still amazes me every time I return.”