|Magellanic penguin at Punta Tombo showing its metal band.|
Credit: Dee Boersma
“We know that evolution occurs – that species change,” said Dee Boersma, a University of Washington (UW) professor of biology.
“But to see this process in long-lived animals you have to look at generations of individuals, track how traits are inherited and detect selection at work.”
Boersma studies one particularly intriguing long-lived species, the Magellanic penguins of South America. She has spent 34 years gathering information about their lifespan, reproduction and behaviour at Punta Tombo, a stretch of Argentine coast that serves as their largest breeding site.
Boersma and her colleagues combed through 28 years’ worth of penguin data to search for signs that natural selection – one of the main drivers of evolution – may be acting on certain penguin traits. As they report in a paper published on 21 September in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, selection is indeed at work at Punta Tombo.