Through the long-term field study more than 35 years on Darwin's finches on the Galápagos Islands, the Grants demonstrated that morphology and behavior of organisms are altered rapidly by natural selection in response to recurrent environmental changes. Their work has not only made enormous contributions to evolutionary biology and ecology, but also has had a profound influence on the general public through demonstrating the evolution by natural selection in the field.
Darwin’s finches: Population variation and natural selection (Grant, P. R., Grant, B. R., Smith, J. N. M., Abbott, I. J. and Abbott, L. K.). Proceeding National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 73: 257-261, 1976.
Darwin’s finches: Population variation and sympatric speciation (Grant, B. R. and Grant, P. R.). Proceeding National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 76: 2359-2363, 1979.
Evolutionary Dynamics of a Natural Population: The Large Cactus Finch of the Galápagos (Grant, B. R. and Grant , P. R.). University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 350 pp, 1989.
Unpredictable evolution in a 30-year study of Darwin’s finches (Grant, P. R. and Grant, B. R.). Science 296: 707-711, 2002.
Evolution of character displacement in Darwin’s finches (Grant, P. R. and Grant, B. R.). Science 313: 224-226, 2006.
How and Why Species Multiply: The Radiation of Darwin’s Finches (Grant, P. R. and Grant, B. R.). Princeton University Press, Princeton, 272 pp., 2008.
Dr. Peter Raymond Grant and Dr. Barbara Rosemary Grant have conducted the long-term field study more than thirty-five years since 1973, on Darwin’s finches on the Galápagos Islands, and demonstrated that morphology and behavior of organisms are altered rapidly by natural selection in response to environmental fluctuations. Their detailed work of evolutionary mechanisms has not only made enormous contributions to evolutionary biology and ecology, but also has had a profound influence on the general public through demonstrating the evolution by natural selection in the field.
The most impressive achievement of the Grants is their detailed study of how, within a dramatically changing natural environment, the beak size and shape of ground finches (genus Geospiza) have evolved rapidly by natural selection, as well as the mechanisms and the condition for the rapid evolution. Although there had been attempts showing natural selection before their work, the Grants were the first to closely trace the evolution taking place in the field for more than thirty-five years, and to study in detail all the aspects related to the evolutionary changes, such as the ecological factors responsible for natural selection, evolutionary responses, the directions in which many traits evolve, and the mechanisms that maintain the genetic variation necessary for evolutionary change. In evolutionary biology, where experimental studies tend to be difficult, the Grants’ empirical research has made the most important contribution since Darwin in making evolutionary biology as a science in which proof is possible.
Through long-term research on Darwin’s finches on the Galápagos Islands, the Grants have also elucidated a variety of evolutionary phenomena. These include the relationship between birdsong and reproductive isolation, genetic correlations among traits and their evolutionary changes, migration to new islands and the founder effect, detection of inbreeding depression in the natural populations, genetic introgression due to hybridization, and character displacement caused by dramatic environmental changes. Their research has set a standard for the field study of evolution, exerting a far-reaching influence on the study of evolution of other organisms.
In addition, the achievements by the Grants have helped to promote an accurate understanding of evolutionary phenomena among the general public. Their work has also suggested the significance of evolutionary biology in coping with the on-going environmental changes. Their contributions to evolutionary biology as a science certainly deserve the highest recognition.
For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2009 Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences to Dr. Peter Raymond Grant and Dr. Barbara Rosemary Grant.
Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos archipelago for five weeks in 1835. His observations on animals, plants and volcanoes contributed to the development of his revolutionary ideas about evolution by natural selection. Finches, now known as Darwin’s finches, were an important element in his thinking. We have been visiting Galápagos every year for the last 37 years in order to understand in detail how the ancestral species of finch, arriving in the archipelago two to three million years ago, gave rise to the 13 species of Darwin’s finches living there today.
Each of us grew up in England and experienced nature in the countryside. We received our undergraduate training in Britain, then migrated to the University of British Columbia where we met. Many years later, after we had married, obtained a job at McGill University in Canada, and started a family, we launched a program of field research on the Galápagos islands. Our previous training had been different: Peter had specialized in ecology and Rosemary had specialized in genetics. These separate fields of expertise enabled our joint research to be more than the sum of the parts. The interaction between our different ways of thinking about problems gave us greater insights than either of us would have reached alone by staying within our own respective fields.
The research was initially designed to address three questions. First, how do new species form? Second, has competition between species been important in their evolution? Third, why do some populations vary much more than others in characteristics such as beak or body size? To answer them we combined a study of different finch communities on several islands in the archipelago with a study in great detail on the islands of Genovesa for 11 years and Daphne Major for 37 years: patterns in space combined with processes in time. Our most important finding has been that evolution by natural selection can be observed, measured and interpreted, and it occurs repeatedly when the environment changes. Darwin would have been surprised, since he believed that evolution occurred too slowly for anyone to see, but would have been delighted.