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16.1: Chapter Introduction

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    Ecological competition is a potent force driving organic evolution. When Charles Darwin reached the Galapagos Islands at age 26, he studied an assortment of fifteen similar species that are now called “Darwin’s Finches” (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)). His observation that various species had different beak structures, specialized for different foods, led him to question the stability of species. Indeed, such “character displacement” is one of several consequences of ecological competition.

    Galapagos Arpeggio.JPG
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). The Galapagos Archipelago, on the equator more 500 miles off the west coast of South America.

    Darwin's finches.JPG
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\). Three species of Darwin’s finches: Sharp-beaked ground finch, Geospiza difficilis (left); cactus ground finch, G. scandens (middle); and large ground finch, G. magnirostris (right).

    Seeing the gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends. —Charles Darwin

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