When a new kind of species is created because of a separation in habitat, they start to develop unique characteristics. What is the phenomenon called, and are there actual examples of this happening in our world today?
The Abert and Kaibab Squirrels live on opposites sides of the Colorado River. They used to be in one location until the Grand Canyon divided the space. The squirrels developed into different species, and they cannot be interbred.
What is Speciation?
When a new kind of species is developed, it is described as speciation. This phenomenon occurs when a group within the same species separates and develop their own unique characteristics.
The development of new characteristics is due to the demands of the new habitat and the different environments they need to thrive in.
There are different kinds of speciation; peripatric, allopatric, sympatric, and artificial. (Source: National Geographic)
How Many Different Ecosystems Does the Grand Canyon Have?
When the Colorado River separated the Grand Canyon, two different ecosystems existed on opposite sides of the river. When we talk about ecosystems, we are pertaining to the unique composition of both living and non-living things that give that particular place its distinctive characteristics.
According to studies, there are about 30 types of ecosystems that can be found on Earth. The Grand Canyon itself has about five ecosystems; Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Hudsonian, and Canadian.
On the northern rim of the Grand Canyon lies a boreal forest; this is the Canadian type of ecosystem. The climate is much colder, and the plant life consists of aspen groves, Douglas firs, and even Englemann spruces.
The Hudsonian type of ecosystem is found at almost the same level as the Canadian ecosystem. The presence of Ponderosa Pine can easily identify the area. Kaibab squirrels also live here, and they cannot be found anywhere else in the world. (Source: CBS News)
How Did the Abert and Kaibab Squirrel Come to Be?
Due to evolutionary change. The Colorado River separated the Grand Canyon into two separate spaces. Before this, there was only one kind of squirrel that lived in the area.
As the river started to rise, the squirrel species was divided into two groups, and because of the environmental conditions, the other group adapted and changed. As time passed, the squirrel group that stayed in a different environment evolved into something very different.
Eventually, they became a totally different species that could no longer interbreed. The northern squirrels, the Kaibab, adapted to cooler climates. Whereas the southern squirrels, the Aberts remained the same. (Source: CBS News)
Can Speciation Also Happen with Plants?
Yes, speciation can happen with plants. While they would often thrive in areas that provide them with what they need. They can also adapt and develop specific improvements to help them exist in a different environment.
A perfect example would be; the Helianthus anomalous. Depending on where it grows, the plant has different features. Through the process of hybridization, the hybrid plant adapts the best features of the parent plant. (Source: Berkeley)