Stick Insects and Natural Selection: Zoology Post-Doc Helps Prove Darwin Right

A post-doctoral fellow with the Department of Zoology has conducted the first in-nature experiments that show environmental adaption accelerates the development of new species. "As far as advancing Darwin's theory that natural selection is a key driver of speciation, this is the first experiment of its kind done outside of a lab," says Patrick Nosil of the findings, published in PLoS ONE.

Nosil studied walking-stick insects in southern California--insects that often exhibit colours and patterns that match their host plants. By moving some insects from their customary host plant and protecting others from predators, Nosil found that colour pattern alone could initiate speciation, while natural selection on other traits (like the ability to detoxify host-plant chemicals) were needed to complete the creation of a new species.