Bird of a Feather

Birds are very interesting creatures.  Their beautiful songs and scintillating colors, not to mention the ability of the majority of them to fly has fascinated people for millennia. Scientists love to study birds, often attempting to classify birds largely based on morphology. However, many birds have very similar, sometimes even nearly identical body plans and sizes. Therefore, often coloration is used to delineate the line between similar species. This has led to a proliferation of bird species. In fact, one study in 2015 claimed that scientists had underestimated the number of bird species by a factor of two! However, a couple of recent studies have pointed out that bird coloration may not be the best delineator of a species.

Two recent studies have dealt with bird coloration. One only tangentially related study looked at which prey predators eat.  The study examined fairy-wren populations and discovered that predators do not prefer the more colorful and therefore theoretically more obvious prey.  Instead, predators show no preference.  This deals a heavy blow to the idea that beauty among birds is in spite of predation focusing on the more noticeable ones. This idea is based on the idea that the only reason to evolve beauty is to attract a mate, and that it comes with a fitness cost.

However, the more pertinent study comes from the journal Nature Communications which discusses the pathways that birds use to uptake color. Specifically, the paper focused on the uptake of the bright colors,: red, yellow, orange and so on.  According to the study, much of bird coloration is food dependent. In other words, for birds, the old adage, “You are what you eat” appears to be very true.  Bird plumage is heavily influenced by the pigments in the foods they eat.

The primary purpose of the study was to determine the pathway that the pigments went through to be used by the birds. However, it also made a few other comments which are of interest to us.  Their argument, essentially, is that as soon as you reach the optimum evolutionary efficiency in such a progression, the environment changes, forcing you to evolve to keep pace. This argument is deceptively dangerous. It sounds good on its face because most people recognize that animals do adapt to suit themselves to their environment. However, what most people do not think about are the limits to animal adaptation. This limit is imposed by their DNA.

DNA, as many of you are undoubtedly aware, is the information contained within the cells of the organism.  This information is not unlimited.  Dog genomes do not contain a hidden gene for wings, for example.  This applies to birds as well. Their genomes do not hold infinite information. Thus attempting to claim that these carotenoid uptake mechanisms had to continuously evolve to is spurious. They certainly could adapt to an extent to fit in a changing environment, but those changes are limited by their genome.

However, the key takeaway from this article was not actually the main thrust of the researcher’s article.  Instead, it is one of the inferences from their conclusions. Since as mentioned above, bird species are often classified based on their color, and their color is based in part at least on what they eat, it is possible we have massively over-estimated the number of bird species in the world.  This is very important because it impacts baraminology.

Evolutionists regularly mock the concept of baraminology, generally saying that there are too many species present on the world for them to have all diversified since the Flood. However, as Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson demonstrated in his wonderfully deep book Replacing Darwin this problem is much less a problem than it first appears. With this recent study, the problem grows even smaller.  This recent study examined 250 different species of birds.  If their results hold true across all birds, then birds could potentially reduce the number of bird species by a sizeable margin. This would shrink the species issue considerably.

While these researchers did not set out to make a point about bird speciation, they did, in effect, point to the effect that the environment has on bird coloration. Since so many birds are classified based on their coloration, this does point to a potential overclassification of bird species, which does nothing to help evolution, but certainly is beneficial to creationists.



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