• Competition;
  • Darwin's finches;
  • Galápagos;
  • Geospiza;
  • granivory;
  • hybridization;
  • morphometries;
  • natural selection

The history of how Darwin's medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis) on Isla Daphne Major, Galápagos became a textbook example of character release is reviewed. Four hypotheses for the evolution of the intermediate-sized Daphne fortis are examined, including genetic drift/founder effect, hybridization with the small ground finch (G'. fuliginosa), food supply (or local adaptation hypothesis) and character release in allopatry.

Modern data suggest that genetic drift is unlikely to have been important, due to inadequate isolation and over-riding selection and introgression on Daphne. All three remaining hypotheses have probably played a role. Hybridization with G. fuliginosa occurs, although it cannot counteract the selection pressures seen during our study. Local adaptation has also occurred, with natural selection changing the relative frequencies of fortis phenotypes in response to changes in Daphne food supplies. The selection resulted from correlations between the size of seeds available, feeding behaviour and morphology. However, recent phenotypic tracking has resulted in larger, not smaller phenotypes. There is also evidence for character release in the form of diet expansion by G. fortis during periods of food shortage, and indirect evidence for interspecific competition between fortis and the cactus ground finch (G. scandens). The Daphne fortis phenotype probably represents a balance between introgression with fuliginosa, selection for larger body size in dry years and selection for smaller body size in wet years. The simple textbook account of a character shift caused by the accidental absence of competitors should be qualified to reflect the ecological complexity of the situation.