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From Extinction Back to Existence: The White-Throated Rail

This is the white-throated rail, a chicken-sized bird indigenous to Madagascar which, according to new research, had previously gone extinct but came to existence once again due to a rare process called “iterative evolution”.

The research, from the University of Portsmouth and Natural History Museum, found that on two occasions, separated by tens of thousands of years, a rail species was able to successfully colonise an isolated atoll called Aldabra and subsequently became flightless on both occasions. The last surviving colony of flightless rails is still found on the island today.
This is the first time that iterative evolution (the repeated evolution of similar or parallel structures from the same ancestor but at different times) has been seen in rails and one of the most significant in bird records.


(Image Credit: Charles J Sharp)

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Interesting story. At first glance it seemed like a recent event. However, the story states this return from extinction happened 136,000 years ago. Conditions changed and the island was repopulated 36,000 years later. The idea of iterative evolution makes sense. Species adapt to their environment, so similar adaptions would occur in similar situations. Miraculous? Miracles usually rely on supernatural intervention. What happened here is the natural world doing what it does. Overall, there have been numerous species of rails which have gone permanently extinct in historic times. The usual culprit has been human activity. The introduction of cats rats and pigs to island ecological systems has wiped out many populations. The most recent extinction I can think of were the Wake Island rails which were eaten into extinction by Japanese soldiers in World War II.
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