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Bird feathers help solve evolutionary riddle

A research team has shown that evolution is driven by species interaction within a community. The researchers showed that the way biochemical processes are structured in birds holds the key to understanding how species gain and lose their reliance on others in their communities. Consequently, this dictates how quickly species can diversify and evolve. To investigate this concept, the team built and tested the structure of thousands of carotenoid biochemical pathways in nearly 300 bird species. Then, they explored how the pathways had changed over the last 50 million years. The team found that when species temporarily internalize control over their carotenoid production by capitalizing on multiple sources of carotenoids, they evolve at exceptionally high rates and produce some of the most extravagantly colored birds in the world. Shown here: A house finch, which is colored with 24 carotenoid compounds derived from diverse dietary sources, such as saguaro pollen.

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