The Caribbean hamlet fish is providing scientists with insight into the evolutionary process known as speciation.
The new findings, published online today by the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, significantly improve our understanding of speciation – the evolutionary process by which new species arise.
The hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region.
It had previously been believed that these different species evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together.
The new study by ecologists at UEA and Simon Fraser University in Canada found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet colour varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation.
“Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation,” said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA’s School of Biological Sciences.
“Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process.”
Find out more at physorg.com
[Photo: Laszlo Ilyes]