The Natural History Reader in Evolution

By Niles Eldredge | Go to book overview

7
The Flies Fan Out

KENNETH Y. KANESHIRO and ALAN T. OHTA

Hawaii has more than 500 described species of endemic pomace flies; approximately 200 additional species are in our collection at the University of Hawaii but have yet to be described and classified, and more than 200 species are estimated to await discovery. This large complement of species seems to be descended from a single or, at the most, two original colonist species. Pomace flies today occupy habitats as disparate as morning glory flowers near sea level and slime fluxes of Myoporum trees growing on the slopes of Mauna Kea at elevations of up to 7000 feet. They have been found in desertlike environments where the soil is powdery dry, in rain forests with lush tree-fern jungles, and in swampland perpetually shadowed by rain clouds and with vegetation that is burdened with dripping, moss-laden branches.

A team of evolutionary biologists has spent nearly two decades of intensive interdisciplinary research in an effort to understand the mechanisms that have enabled these flies to adapt to the diverse Hawaiian environments. These studies have included the fields of behavior, biochemistry, developmental biology, ecology, external and internal morphology, genetics, physiology, and systematics. We have focused our research on two behavioral traits--oviposition and courtship--that may be important factors governing the rate of evolution as well as the tremendous diversity in the Hawaiian Drosophilidae. For this study we have used an especially striking group of large flies loosely called the picture-wings after the black-and- white wing patterns they display.

An explanation of species evolution in Hawaii must begin with the original colonization events. When a new population is founded on an island, the colonizers may consist of a few individuals or even a single fertilized female. The founders

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