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Beak of the Finch Reading Assignments
In this course, we will read and discuss the Beak of the Finch. This is a nonfiction book
which describes the groundbreaking research of Peter and Rosemary Grant, which
documented evolution in action in Galapagos Finches.
The objectives of this assignment are as follows:
 Gain in-depth background on a series of studies that document evolution, relating
what you read to concepts learned in lecture and laboratory
 Enhance critical reading skills and gain exposure to “popular” scientific literature
There are three sections to the text, each equaling about 100 pages. We will discuss Part
One: Evolution in the Flesh on Monday, February 11. We will discuss Part Two: New
Beings on this Earth on Monday, March 17 and we will discuss Part Three: G.O.D on
Monday, April 14.
Attached is a list of questions to aid in your reading of the text. You will turn in your
answers to these questions at the beginning of the corresponding discussion period. It is
recommended that you download the electronic copy of the questions from the website
and then type your answers electronically. You will be graded on your completeness and
correctness in answering each question (for a total of 10 points for each text section), as
well as your contribution to the discussion of the text (as a portion of your participation
points). Answer each question in complete sentences.
Beak of the Finch Reading Assignment
Part One: Evolution in the Flesh
Due on Monday, February 11
Chapter 1
Describe the drought mentioned at the start of this chapter. Draw a line to indicate the
total height of rain. Compare this amount to a desert of your choice? How does it
compare? What is the significance of this drought?
Why are the isolation of the Galapagos so important in studying evolution?
Locate the Galapagos and Daphne Major on a map.
The islands are volcanic in origin and are 5 million years old, “far younger than most of
the rock that composes the continents.” How old are the rocks on the continents?
Why do you think it took so many years for scientists to document evolution in action
after Darwin’s Origin of Species was released?
What is Olduvai Gorge and Koobi Fora?
Chapter 2
Why do you think the animals on the Galapagos Islands were so tame and friendly?
Why do you think finches were able to evolve and specialize into so many forms on these
islands? What is this process called?
What is the value of a long-term ecological/evolutionary study? When did the Grants
start their study?
Carolus Linneas gave us what? On what was his system based?
What are Darwin and FitzRoy looking for?
How does Creationism influence scientific thought at this point in history?
How are variations regarded?
How did Principles of Geology affect Darwin’s thinking?
Why might Darwin be oppressed and persecuted for his secret theory?
Why did Darwin spend so much time learning about pigeons and discussing them in his
What is a philoperisteron?
Chapter 3
What did you think of the analogy on page 40, “spines, but not webbing of a Japanese
fan?” Did it help you understand the concept?
Why did everyone think that evolution moved so slowly and was not able to be observed?
What are some of the tools used in this study? Know what they are and what they look
like. Comment on the technology used.
What are the measurements of beak depth, width and length? Draw a diagram of these
measurements taken by the researchers.
Why was variability in the beak trait of these finches so important?
Chapter 4
What current group uses the 1802 analogy of a watch and a watchmaker?
Who is Huxley and why is he an important figure in evolutionary biology?
Describe the McGill nutcracker and its purpose.
On page 55, the author describes two species of finches that have similar bill sizes when
they are found on separate islands. When the species are found on the same island, one
species tends to have larger beaks and one tends to have smaller beaks? What is this
biological phenomenon called?
On page 55, the author describes what happens when two Paramecium are added to a test
tube. What is the name of the described principle?
What are some of the benefits in this study of the low diversity of food types?
Why did the Grants come back when it was dry?
Finches appear to be utilizing the same exact resource of seeds. However, upon looking
closer we see that during drought, they specialize in what they feed on. What is this
biological phenomenon called?
Note that the finches use tools, a feat usually reserved for “more advanced” organisms
like primates.
Who is Mr. Micawber?
Why do you think only a few finches on one island steal caltrop? Why isn’t this a more
widespread phenomenon?
What is caltrop? How is it changing in response to the finches? What is this process
called when two species evolve together?
What is the difference in size of a finch that can crack and caltrop and one that can’t?
Why would egg-switching help in distinguishing heritable traits? Why do they want to
determine heritability?
Chapter 5
Who is Sisyphus and why is he mentioned here?
What’s a bird’s crop?
What’s a rainshadow?
What was the survival rate of finches during the drought? Discuss why this number is
important to the study.
Which birds tended to survive?
“Natural selection is not by itself evolution.” Why not? What is evolution?
What is the name of the process (in evolutionary terms) when a female finch chooses the
male with the biggest beak?
Chapter 6
The author keeps using the analogy of “standing on shoulders.” Why do you think he
uses this analogy? Is it effective?
Why are big beaks a disadvantage when young?
Explain the difference between a correlation and an experiment. Discuss why this is
important in studying evolutionary biology.
What are the tradeoffs in sexual selection? How did Endler discover these tradeoffs?
Are his results convincing?
Chapter 7
What is El Niño?
What happened to bird reproduction after El Niño?
What happened to natural selection during this time? What type of selection did this
research illustrate?
Is beak variation still important during this time?
Discuss the fortuitousness of the timing of this research. Do you think this study would
have been successful at another time? What might have changed?
What important analysis did Dolph Schluter perform?
There is an interesting hypothesis at the end of this chapter. “The closer you look at life,
the more rapid and intense the rate of evolutionary change. The further back in time you
stand, the less you see.” Discuss.
Beak of the Finch Reading Assignment
Part Two: New Beings on this Earth
Due on Monday, March 17
Chapter 8
List some of the data sets the Grants have collected for over 20 years.
Why is it significant that the hybrid birds are having so much reproductive success?
Chapter 9
What is the difference between variation and evolution? Why is it important to study
variation as well as evolution?
What was the one biological phenomenon that Darwin did not explain fully in his book
On the Origin of Species? Why didn’t he?
What did the various experiments with seeds tell Darwin and the Grants? Why is this
information important to know?
Why does the author point out all the “wanderers to the island?” What is he setting us up
Chapter 10
How did Darwin first envision speciation occurring in the Galapagos? Why was he
What is the war that Darwin envisions and why is this war important to his thoughts on
Note the second reference to Sisyphus.
What did he call his hypothesis on how speciation occurs?
Why does Lack hypothesize there Geospiza fulginosa and G. difficilus are found side-byside only on tall islands?
Explain why Darwin’s principle of divergence was challenged by Bowman, Connell and
What kind of evidence is needed to support Darwin’s principle of divergence?
What does it mean that ecologists are shifting from studying pattern to studying process?
(i.e., they are going from studying what to what?) Why are ecologists making this shift?
Why was competition a “ghost” to Schluter when he started studying the difficilus and
Explain the evidence for character displacement in the finches. This example is used in
many texts to demonstrate character displacement. Do you think it is an effective
example of character displacement?
What is an adaptive peak?
What is an adaptive landscape?
Explain how Schluter used data from the Grant’s study to create an adaptive landscape
and fit the bird beak types onto that adaptive landscape. What did his results tell him?
Explain how character displacement can happen between species in different taxa.
Why does Grant think that character displacement is more common than we think?
Why is this chapter called “The Ever-Turning Sword?”
Chapter 11
What are the visible barriers that keep the finches from interbreeding?
Why is it non-adaptive to choose mates from outside your species?
Describe some of the invisible barriers that keep the finches from interbreeding.
What are misimprinted males?
What cues differ between males and females in identifying rivals and mates? Describe
some of the experiments that investigated these differences.
How were the large cactus finches separating their breeding? Does this information
provide insight into the process of speciation for you?
Chapter 12
Are there examples of new species arising in a short time period? Give one.
What is a “hopeful monster?”
How does the crossbill experiment provide evidence that evolutionary changes happened
in small steps?
Why does the author stress the similarity between the research conditions of the
stickleback study and the finch study?
How did Schluter get around the problem of the “ghost of competition past” in his
stickleback experiment?
Chapter 13
Why haven’t the cactus finches changed over the course of the study?
Why have the fortis been able to change over the course of the study?
Are you able to envision the adaptive landscapes and peaks the author describes? Do
they help in your understanding of the evolution of these birds?
What important feature does hybridization add to a population? Why is this feature
important to have in terms of evolution?
What is introgression?
What is reticulate evolution?
Why does the author include the study on the fruit flies? Discuss the relevancy of their
Why does the author discuss fusion and fission? In what ways are each important in the
evolution of the finches?
Chapter 14
The author invokes the image of Michelangelo’s Adam. Are you familiar with this
image? If not find it.
Note the examples of adaptive radiation, some of which we have discussed in class.
Beak of the Finch Reading Assignment
Part Three: G.O.D
Due on Monday, April 14, 2006
Chapter 15
What enzymes repair DNA?
Why is the spelling of Darwin described?
What is the SOS response?
What is this chapter called the invisible characters?
Chapter 16
What are Darwin’s jelly jar experiments?
Note soapberry bug example from lecture.
Describe the evidence from Walsh’s study of has flies.
What is the name of the type of speciation that occurs without geographic isolation?
What are enzymes variants called in the fruit fly study?
How are the fruit flies achieving isolation, if not geographic?
Chapter 17
What is the adaptation in kea called?
Why is there a hybrid swarm near settlements and villages?
Do you think humans are a natural component of evolutionary change like dinosaurs?
Why or why not?
Why did the giant cactus finch go extinct?
Why are island species more prone to extinction?
What happens to introduced species when they enter a new environment?
Chapter 18
What mode of selection is occurring when pesticides are sprayed for cotton pests?
What are the four ways that insects survive insecticide spraying?
Note the irony of the creationist farmer.
What enzyme chops up DNA in the sodium channel gene sequencing experiment?
Why is it significant that the moth and the fly have the same sodium channel gene?
How quickly can antibiotic resistance occur?
What is the evolutionary tradeoff observed in resistant tuberculosis?
Why is HIV so difficult to control?
Chapter 19
What are some of the possible effects of global warming?
How might global warming affect finch evolution?
What are the “bicycle pump productions” mentioned on page 271?
What does the author mean by Rube Goldberg-like (page 271)?
Note the classic example of industrial melanism in moths.
G. O. D. (the title of this book section) can stand for what?
Note the mention of the major extinctions, including the sixth mass extinction. What is
causing the sixth mass extinction?
Chapter 20
What are some key innovations that are mentioned at the start of the chapter?
What are some key innovations in the evolution of humans?
Provide examples of how other animals use tools.
Provide examples of learning in other animals.
What is the ability to learn from others called?
How do Cocos Island birds specialize on food sources, if not through phenotypic
What is psychological polymorphism in humans and how does this relate to the adaptive
radiation of humans?
How are humans affected by natural selection?
Why does the author describe the behavior of the “dirty dozen” of cactus finches?
Do you think that creationists understand the process of evolution? Why or why not?
Do you think humans are currently evolving?