Evolution is often seen as a mysterious process, but it’s actually predictable, and if life on Earth evolved again it would come out the same way.
That’s the conclusion of an ambitious scientific analysis of 10,000 different birds, which compared the features they have evolved with their lifestyles.
The researchers found that birds with similar lifestyles evolved similar features – even if they were on different sides of the globe.
The finding could help scientists predict how bird species will respond to climate change, and how the loss of one particular species will affect larger ecosystems.
For example, the researchers say puffins and guillemots have very similar body shape to penguins – with beaks, bodies and wings adapted to swimming and catching fish underwater – despite evolving in opposite hemispheres.
The concept, where organisms that are not related to each other independently evolve similar characteristics as a result of having to adapt to similar environments, is called convergent evolution.
While convergent evolution is not a new idea, the researchers said their new dataset “provides the clearest picture yet of its widespread influence across an entire class of animals at a global scale”.