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Humming Birds and Evolution

Discussion in 'The Living World' started by Alien826, Jun 23, 2022 at 11:01 AM.

  1. Alien826

    Alien826 Older than dirt

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    Yesterday evening I watched a documentary by David Attenborough (Hummingbirds, Netflix). Fascinating program, I can recommend it.

    Anyway I learned a lot. These little critters fly in a similar way to insects and the evolutionary advantage is obvious. Among other things, their heartbeat is around 400 bpm when resting and 1200 bpm when flying. Their energy consumption is enormous. To support this, they drink copious quantities of nectar and get protein from capturing flying insects. They need to feed every 15 minutes. How do they survive overnight? They reduce their body temperature and heart rate (to 40 bpm) and induce a kind of hibernation state.

    There are many different sub-species of humming birds and different varieties of plants they feed on, to the extreme that some humming birds can only feed from a single type of plant (this tends to be determined by the size and shape of the flower and the bird's beak).

    I could go on.

    As I watched, I had a familiar thought. How could such complexity arise by the "trial and error" method of natural selection? Remember that the plants and birds have to, in some cases, evolve step by step with the birds.

    At this point some of you may be thinking I'm headed towards some form of theistic evolution. Not at all, though I suppose there is some very small probability of that. The question remains though. What I'm wondering (without any particular evidence or expertise) is whether there are other natural factors yet to be discovered that will expand our understanding of the evolutionary process.

    Discuss.
     
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  2. metis

    metis aged ecumenical anthropologist

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    Because that, along with genetic mutations and genetic drift is how change occurs. Take a look at covid, for example.
     
  3. HonestJoe

    HonestJoe Well-Known Member

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    I don't think we need anything new to have a general understanding of how such systems evolved, since the same kind of thing happens in lots of different contexts and is consistent with the overall ideas of evolutionary theory (not to say there can't be factors we're not aware of and may come to understand in the future).

    In simple terms, all of the key characteristics you mention, both plants and birds, will have developed slowly over multiple generations, as each individual will have a different combination of genes from their parents and different mutations in that DNA. The individual birds that happen to be born with a slightly better ability to hover, a slightly lower heartrate at rest or a beak better for reaching the nectar will be more likely to survive and pass those traits on to the next generations. Similarly, that plants that happen to develop more appealing nectar, flowers that give easier access or pollen that is more effectively spread by the birds will also be more likely to survive and pass on those traits. Where birds and plants develop mutually compatible traits at the same time, both will be more likely to survive, therefore continuingly strengthening their mutually beneficial relationship.
     
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  4. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest Abnormal before it was fashionable
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    There are several things going for this process....
    1) Millions of years for innumerable steps.
    2) Vast populations of individuals enjoying #1.
    3) Huge expanses of environment enabling #2.
     
  5. sayak83

    sayak83 Veteran Member
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    Some insights here.
    They evolved from Eurasian swifts that crossed through Siberia into America and found a new continent to expand into.
    Hummingbird diversity still booming
     
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  6. Heyo

    Heyo Veteran Member

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    Hummingbirds are fascinating but when it comes to evolution my wtf moment is when I learn about the very complicated reproduction cycles of some parasites. They often need two, sometimes three different hosts to complete a cycle and some, to enforce that goal, reprogram a hosts brain. The ways of nature can be mysterious.
     
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  7. Orbit

    Orbit I'm a planet

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    What you said reminded me of this: How common 'cat parasite' gets into human brain and influences human behavior

    Cat parasites infect the human brain and influence human behavior.
     
  8. exchemist

    exchemist Veteran Member

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    I love these examples of convergent evolution. The way nature seems to zero in on similar solutions for how to occupy a given niche, from widely different starting points, is marvellous.

    By the way, here is a video of the hummingbird hawkmoth:



    We saw lots of these on holiday in southern Brittany last week.
     
  9. Heyo

    Heyo Veteran Member

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  10. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    It really is a great documentary.
     
  11. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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  12. Alien826

    Alien826 Older than dirt

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    Yes I'm familiar with that.

    What tends to surprise me though are things like the plant with a long curved flower and the humming bird with the curved beak. It seems difficult to explain with small steps. OK, say the plant develops a slightly curved flower that still allows existing birds to access the nectar. No problem, but no particular advantage. Now a bird with a slightly curved beak emerges. It's slightly better at accessing the slightly curved flower, so we have a mutual dependency starting. All birds can still access all flowers, curved or not. How then did the situation arise where the curved beak bird feeds solely on the curved flower (now both very curved) and other birds are excluded?

    Having thought it through enough to set that out, maybe it's not so unlikely. For example, in a local area where curved flowers outnumbered straight flowers, the local proportion of curved beak birds would increase.

    I'm reminded of Dawkins' example of the "arms race" between antelopes and cheetahs. Both get faster, but stay in balance, so there is no advantage over the original situation.

    I think I'm convincing myself here. :)
     
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  13. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest Abnormal before it was fashionable
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    Co-evolution strikes me as very likely. I'm thinking of
    my catalpa trees & catalpa worm. The tree evolved
    the ability to lose its leaves to the worm, & then re-grow
    them after it morphs into its next form.
    How could co-evolution not happen in some cases, eh.
     
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