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Gentoo Penguins: one species or four?

December 17, 2020

[Chuck Almdale | 19 December 2020]

You can’t take for granted that the “popular press” is telling you all the facts, or analyzing them correctly, or not analyzing them at all and just quoting other sources. I’m not implying that they lie and that it’s absolutely true that lizardmen from Betelgeuse 5 really are running the show here; that’s jumping off the deep end. Just that they’re not being as exacting and knowledgeable you might wish them to be. Here’s an example.

There was a recently published story on how the Gentoo Penguin, currently considered to be a single species with various colonies on Antarctica and the near-Antarctic island groups, might actually be four species as there seems to be no interbreeding between colonies and there are size differences and genetic differences between colonies. That sounds reasonable: not way out of line.

Here’s a link to the paper itself, published in Ecology and Evolution: Morphometric and genetic evidence for four species of gentoo penguin.

Here’s a typical story on this from the Daily Mail of England. It was very similar to five other write-ups I looked at. They were, if you want to compare them for yourself: BBC News, Discover Wildlife, Science Alert, Bird Watching Daily, and Science Daily.

Gentoo penguins should be split into FOUR species because populations have evolved differently to adapt to their various habitats, scientists claim. | Ryan Morrison | 3 November 2020

  • Experts studied the genome of Gentoo penguin populations around the world 
  • The bird colonies have been separated for hundreds of thousands of years 
  • Researchers say they haven’t interbred and have developed differences 
  • While the changes aren’t obvious they include things like longer skeletons or altered beaks invisible to the untrained eye but enough to distinguish them 

Now compare it to this write-up by my favorite science blogger, Jerry Coyne, Biology Professor Emeritus of University of Chicago, expert on evolution and best selling author. He digs into the details, and lets you know that things aren’t as straightforward as they might seem at first glance. There are tremendous differences in the two write-ups, but I won’t spoil it for you. Read it for yourself. Click the link below.

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