CU Conserves Darwin Day Event

Photo by Joel Frambes
Evolving Discussion: Sophomore biology major Kenzi Henderson (right) discussed the implications a rapidly changing landscape has on the diversity of bird populations in Madagascar with Dr. Doug Wood (left) of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, comparing threatened birds-of-paraidse in the tropics.

Joel Frambes
Managing Editor

At 5 p.m. on Feb. 14 in the CETES Conference Center, the Department of Agriculture and Biological Sciences shared its love for evolution with its celebration of Darwin Day.

The evening’s events featured Southeastern Oklahoma State University professor of Biological Sciences Dr. Doug Wood and concluded with themed refreshments and light mingling.

Wood’s talk, titled “Madagascar – Evolution and the Eighth Continent,” highlighted the uniqueness of the flora and fauna of the island. He said this variation was perfect to examine on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth.

“To pull in elements of natural selection and evolution in an isolated island like that where it’s a lot like a microcosm of evolution,” Wood said, “you can really study it [evolution] in a smaller space.”

He began by explaining the geography and geologic history of the island, going as far back as Pangaea when Madagascar belonged to Gondwanaland, an ancient supercontinent containing what is now South America, Africa, India, Antarctica and Oceania.

After the continents separated, Madagascar drifted away from India 88 million years ago to where it is now, no closer than 260 miles from its home continent. Wood said it is this separation that interested him in the diversity of Malagasy species and brought him to the island.

“When the opportunity to go Madagascar came up, I had to take it,” he said.

As a self-described birdwatcher, Wood documented the species he encountered through his photography, using them as examples to demonstrate the natural variety of birds on the island.

His primary example was vangas, a family of birds endemic to Madagascar that have evolved similarly to Darwin’s finches. Sophomore biology major Kenzi Henderson said she noticed the similarities between the birds and the scientists.

“Madagascar is very much like the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador as far as how much different every single species is,” she said. “He [Wood] basically went on a very similar expedition to what Darwin did.”

Alongside the avian examples, Wood referred to lemurs for another example of evolution since they are a family of primates exclusive to Madagascar.

While Wood always drew attention to the natural beauty of Madagascar, he also warned of the threats humans have placed on the environment by clearing rainforest for farmland.

“I think the conversion to agriculture is the biggest thing [threat] because you get direct habitat loss,” he said. “Once it converts to agriculture, it doesn’t come back, so you know you’re seeing less than what was there prior to a couple hundred years ago.

“Seeing things like people logging right up against the national parks – they’re probably going to go in there and taking trees out of there that they shouldn’t, which can alter the environment.”

Wood reminded the audience that with habitat loss comes loss of many of the species he photographed, some of which were already vulnerable.

Henderson said this message resonated with her since it has such important implications on the future of biology and the planet.

“I think there’s a good chance that unless proper conservation is achieved,” she said, “a lot more species are going to go extinct.”


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