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Italian sparrows share traits with Spanish and house sparrows (Ellerslie77 / iStock)

By mapping the genes of a hybrid sparrow, scientists are starting to understand one way new species can be created.

What they did: The Italian sparrow, which was shown to be its own species in 2011, is the result of crosses between Spanish and house sparrows. In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, researchers sequenced the genes of Italian sparrows, and compared them to house and Spanish sparrows. The researchers believe that hybridization could be a key driver of speciation and biodiversity.

Why this matters: Speciation occurs when individuals from two groups no longer breed. This can happen for a number of reasons, including the environment, behavioral differences and genetic differences. Sometimes, mating between two species can create a new, third animal that doesn't interbreed with either parent species. It's unclear how common this is.

Some similarities: The researchers found that Italian sparrows get about two-thirds of their genome from house sparrows, and one third from Spanish sparrows. This isn't surprising, because Italian sparrows are behaviorally more similar to house sparrows, and occasionally interbreed with them.

And some differences: The researchers flagged areas of the genome where the hybrid's genes differed strongly from both parent species. These regions could indicate ways the sparrows were evolving away from both parents. For example, the genes that control skull shape and beak size are unique in Italian sparrows. Since diet influences habitat and behavior, changes in beak shape could trigger speciation. The scientists highlighted genes that control for plumage. The quality and color of a bird's plumage is an important part of bird mate choice, and could prevent Italian sparrows from mating with Spanish or house sparrows.

Singing a familiar song

: Although vocalizations were not addressed in this study, they're one way birds can identify mates. A

recent study

found that

birdsong is genetic in flycatchers

, and could be a mechanism for speciation. Hybrid offspring preferred one parent species' song over the other.

Go deeper

JPMorgan: "Full global recovery" in 2022

Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

JPMorgan Chase Global Research says in a forecast to clients: "2022 will be the year of a full global recovery, an end of the global pandemic, and a return to normal conditions we had prior to the COVID-19 outbreak."

The big picture: The bullish report sees "a return of global mobility, and a release of pent-up demand from consumers (e.g. travel, services)."

Inside Trump's hunt for "disloyal" Republicans

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Donald Trump and his associates are systematically reshaping the Republican Party, working to install hand-picked loyalists across federal and state governments and destroy those he feels have been disloyal, sources close to the former president tell Axios.

Why it matters: If most or all of Trump’s candidates win, he will go into the 2024 election cycle with far more people willing to do his bidding who run the elections in key states.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

CPI: The new jobs number

Grocery shoppers in Washington, D.C., last month. Photo: Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Consumer Price Index has replaced the jobs report as the most anticipated data drop by the U.S. government.

Why it matters: Rising prices tend to lower political fortunes. Washington and Wall Street are now waiting for the CPI number to flash at 8:30am ET around the 10th day of each month. This month's report — due Friday morning — will give a reading of how hot inflation ran in November.

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