Evolution is usually thought of as occurring over long time periods, but it also can happen quickly. Consider a tiny fish whose transformation after the 1964 Alaskan earthquake was uncovered by University of Oregon scientists and their University of Alaska collaborators.
The fish, seawater-native threespine stickleback, in just decades experienced changes in both their genes and visible external traits such as eyes, shape, color, bone size and body armor when they adapted to survive in fresh water. The earthquake -- 9.2 on the Richter scale and second highest ever recorded -- caused geological uplift that captured marine fish in newly formed freshwater ponds on islands in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska south of Anchorage.
The findings -- detailed in a paper available online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- are important for understanding the impacts of sudden environmental change on organisms in nature, says UO biologist William Cresko, whose lab led the National Science Foundation-funded research.