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Birds

Darwin's finches illustration
Summer 2018

Another look at Darwin’s finches

Darwin developed key aspects of his theory of evolution while pondering finches from the Galapagos Islands. It’s only fitting that reproductive biologist Michael Skinner would choose those same islands to propose a Lamarckian idea—that environment can directly impact inheritance of physical traits.

In this case, the process is driven by epigenetics, he says. “If we think about evolution, we can’t simply think of genetics. We also need to think about epigenetics.”

According to Skinner, epigenetic mutations occur 1,000 times more frequently than do genetic mutations and could help explain why new species emerge more often than expected.

“The reason epimutations exist might be to dramatically … » More …

Spring 2011

New threats, new science

Sure, Darwin had to battle seasickness aboard the HMS Beagle, and he spent nearly five years getting to and from the Galapagos Islands, and it took another 23 years to incorporate his findings into his seminal work on evolutionary biology.

But at least he lived in a slow-motion world of ship travel and isolated, slowly evolving species. Today, a scientist, or an exotic parasite for that matter, can get from London to the Galapagos in 24 hours. The parasite can start changing the biology of a place almost overnight. The scientist will have trouble keeping up.

Jeb Owen has seen as much, not by visiting … » More …

Selections from The Nature of Nebraska: Ecology and Biodiversity, by Paul A. Johnsgard '55

Text excerpted, by permission, from The Nature of Nebraska: Ecology and Biodiversity, by Paul A. Johnsgard ’55.

There is a Place…

If you plan for one year, plant rice. If you plan for 10 years, plant trees. If you plan for 100 years, educate mankind.  —Kuan-Tzu

There is a place in America where East and West merge together as smoothly as one river flows into another. That place is called the Great Plains. There is a river in America that gave sustenance to perhaps a hundred thousand migrants who trudged westward in the mid-nineteenth century along the Mormon and Oregon Trails. That river is called … » More …

Fall 2008

Return to Warden's Grove: Science, Desire and the Lives of Sparrows

Spying on birds in the far north

Warden’s Grove is a tiny cluster of spruce trees in the generally treeless expanse of the north Canadian tundra, and Christopher Norment – who received his master’s degree from WSU in 1982 – spent three long summers there studying sparrows; this excellent little book is his account of those summers. Readers expecting a tale of high arctic adventure will be disappointed – there are no attacks by ferocious grizzlies, no horrifying acts perpetrated by men made desperate by starvation, and no daring escapades by intrepid explorers of the last frontier. Instead, Norment delivers a tale of patient waiting … » More …