Washington, November 16 (ANI): A team of biologists has solved the mystery contemplated by Charles Darwin in 1835 about how a wolf-like species got on the Falkland Islands, determining that it might have come to the islands on icebergs.
When Charles Darwin visited the Falkland Islands during the voyage of the Beagle in 1835, he saw a wolf-like species, wrote about it in his diaries and correctly commented that it was being hunted in such large numbers that it would soon become extinct.
Darwin was baffled by how this animal got on the islands, and it figured heavily in the formation of his ideas on evolution by natural selection.
Now, UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) biologists and colleagues have analyzed DNA from museum specimens, including one collected by Darwin, and have solved the puzzle.
"It was the only terrestrial mammal on the island," said Robert Wayne, UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and co-author of the research paper.
"How can something the size of a Labrador retriever end up on an island in sufficient numbers that a new population emerges and evolves into a new species? The presence of this large canid, the Falkland Islands wolf, has always been a puzzle, since the early 1800s," he added.
Graham Slater, a postdoctoral scholar in the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and lead author of the research paper, Wayne and colleagues, analyzed DNA samples from five Falkland Islands wolves and calculated how long ago those five wolves shared a common ancestor.
"It was at least 70,000 years ago - well before humans came to the New World," Slater said. "The Falkland Islands wolf clearly precedes any possible human occupation of the New World, which dates back some 12,000 to 13,000 years," he added.
Darwin hypothesized that the Falkland Islands wolf, which became extinct in 1876, may have come to the islands on icebergs.
Wayne and Slater think Darwin may be right.
"A large, wolf-size animal could perhaps live on a large iceberg with penguins and sea birds and maybe seals - enough prey to survive the voyage - where a vegetarian could not do that very well," Wayne said.
"There is a possibility that a pack of wolf-like animals could be marooned on an iceberg that would eventually land at the shores of the Falkland Islands, then live off the sea birds and marine mammals there and give rise to a new population that over time would turn into a dramatically different species," he added. (ANI)