Bats and dolphins may have developed echolocation via similar mutations.
Erika Check Hayden
September 4, 2013
A new analysis suggests that many genes evolved in parallel in bats and dolphins as each developed the remarkable ability to echolocate.
Different organisms often independently evolve similar observable traits such as anatomical or functional features, but the genetic changes underpinning such ‘convergent evolution’ are usually different. The new study, published today in Nature1, hints that evolution may be finding the same genetic solutions to a problem more often than previously thought.
“These results imply that convergent molecular evolution is much more widespread than previously recognized,” says molecular phylogeneticist Frédéric Delsuc at the The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Montpellier in France, who was not involved in the study. What is more, he adds, the genes involved are not just the few, obvious ones known to be directly involved in a trait but a broader array of genes that are involved in the same regulatory networks.
Biologists have long debated how different animal species independently developed echolocation, the sonar-like mechanism in which animals listen to their own clicks and calls echoing back from obstacles or prey. In the study released today, biologists led by Stephen Rossiter and Joe Parker at Queen Mary College, University of London, drew upon the largest dataset ever to look for convergent evolution in 2,326 genes shared by 22 mammals, including six bats and the bottlenose dolphin.