On the origin of Darwin's finches

Akie Sato, Herbert Tichy, Colm O'Huigin, Peter R. Grant B, Rosemary Grant, Jan Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Darwin's finches comprise a group of 15 species endemic to the Galápagos (14 species) and Cocos (1 species) Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The group is monophyletic and originated from an ancestral species that reached the Galápagos Archipelago from Central or South America. Descendants of this ancestor on the Archipelago then colonized Cocos Island. In the present study, we used sequences of two mitochondrial (mt) DNA segments (922 bp of the cytochrome b gene and 1,082 bp of the control region), as well as two nuclear markers (830 bp of numt2, consisting of 140 bp of mtDNA control region and 690 bp of flanking nuclear DNA; and 740 bp of numt3, consisting of 420 bp of mt cytochrome b sequence flanked by 320 bp of nuclear DNA) to identify the species group most closely related to the Darwin's finches. To this end, we analyzed the sequences of 28 species representing the main groups (tribes) of the family Fringillidae, as well as 2 outgroup species and 13 species of Darwin's finches. In addition, we used mtDNA cytochrome b sequences of some 180 additional Fringillidae species from the database for phylogeny reconstruction by maximum-parsimony, maximum-likelihood, minimum-evolution, and neighbor-joining methods. The study identifies the grassquit genus Tiaris, and specifically the species Tiaris obscura, as the nearest living relative of Darwin's finches among the species surveyed. Darwin's finches diverged from the Tiaris group shortly after the various extant species of Tiaris diverged from one another. The initial adaptive radiation of the Tiaris group apparently occurred on the Caribbean islands and then spread to Central and South America, from where the ancestors of Darwin's finches departed for the Galápagos Islands approximately 2.3 MYA, at the time of the dramatic climatic changes associated with the closure of the Panamanian isthmus and the onset of Pleistocene glaciation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-311
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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