Small Mammal Differentiation on Islands
The reason for the distinctiveness of small mammals on islands has traditionally attracted some imaginative story-telling, usually invoking isolation (as a relict) followed by adaptation and/or random genetic changes. Studies of voles on Orkney, long-tailed field mice on the Hebrides and Shetland, and house mice on the Faroe archipelago show that the main factor in differentiating island races from their mainland ancestors is the chance genetic composition of the founding animals. Subsequent change has necessarily to be based on the genes and frequencies carried by this colonizing group. Probably most post-colonization change is adaptive, although possibly limited in extent both by the initial paucity of variation and by the conservative effect of intragenomic interactions. It is probably helpful to recognize that the `founder effect' or principle commonly invoked in discussions about evolution on islands involves a founder `event', followed by founder `selection'. Island differentiation is not necessarily a precursor to speciation, although the wide occurrence of island endemics suggests that founder effects should not be rejected as a driving force initiating speciation. Notwithstanding, island forms provide a valuable `laboratory' for testing new genetic combinations, a small proportion of which may prove evolutionarily exciting. Only more empirical studies will uncover their evolutionary importance.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B
- Pub Date:
- June 1996