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Biologists At UNR, University of Wyoming Discover Evolving New Bird Species

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C.K. Benkman / University of Wyoming
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The South Hills crossbill has coevolved for 6,000 years alongside the Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine.

Biologists at the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Wyoming are uncovering what could be a new bird species—one that is evolving in a unique way.

Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick reports.

The South Hills crossbill is a type of finch that does not migrate but instead lives permanently in southern Idaho. Now the bird is in what biologists are calling an evolutionary arms race between itself and its food source, the Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine.

“Lodgepole pine has evolved defenses against these birds. They’ve evolved these kind of thicker, bigger cones with thicker scales. And the birds have reciprocally, in response to essentially more armored cones, have evolved bigger bills that allow them to get into these cones.”

That’s Tom Parchman, an assistant professor of Biology at UNR who led the study.

He says this discovery is about more than just birds.

“It might be the only clear case that we have up to this point of coevolution actually being responsible for the formation of a new species. That’s the big deal about this to me.”

However, Parchman says that most climate models predict a rapid decline in lodgepole pines, meaning in 100 years, there might not be enough left to sustain this bird species.

Noah Glick, Reno Public Radio News.

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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