Academic journal article Science and Children

Small Fish Species Evolved Rapidly after Earthquake

Academic journal article Science and Children

Small Fish Species Evolved Rapidly after Earthquake

Article excerpt

Evolution is usually thought of as occurring over long time periods--but it also can happen quickly. In just decades, three-spine stickleback, a seawater-native fish, experienced changes in both their genes and visible external traits when they adapted to survive in freshwater.

The fish began transforming--with such changes as eyes, shape and color--after the 1964 Alaskan earthquake, which was 9.2 on the Richter Scale and the second highest ever recorded. The earthquake caused geological uplift that captured marine fish in newly formed freshwater ponds on islands in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska, south of Anchorage.

The findings are important for understanding the impacts of sudden environmental change on organisms in nature, says William Cresko, an author of the study.

"In some of the populations that we studied, we found evidence of changes in fewer than even 10 years," Cresko says. "For the field, it indicates that evolutionary change can happen quickly, and this likely has been happening with other organisms as well."

Survival in a new environment is not new for stickleback, a small silver-colored fish found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. …

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