Apart from loss of habitat due to human encroachment, it would be interesting to know whether there is much study of patterns that govern extinctions — that is, natural extinctions. Paleontologist David Raup (1933–2015) wrote quite a good book on the topic, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck in 1991 but it’s not clear how much has been done since then.
A recent study showed that survivors had brains that were 53% larger, which was perhaps useful in avoiding predators. The problem is, it is genuinely unclear what role brain size plays in intelligence.
Of course, the story raises the question of just how important saving “species” (see speciation) is. A shift in an ecology can be critical but the disappearance, reappearance, or brand new development of a hard-to-distinguish species may not have much environment impact.
Featuring David Attenborough
Researchers: Yet despite their best efforts, the scientists were unable to recover nearly 5% of the Christmas Island rat’s genome. Many of the missing genes were related to immunity and olfaction, two highly important functions for the animal. “It’s not just the irrelevant stuff that you’re not going to get back,” Gilbert said. “And so what you’ll end up with is nothing like what went extinct.”
Researchers: Defensive features such as spines regressed and fruit sizes increased. The research has demonstrated this using palm trees as a model system…
Maybe they will have to change the name now. One term for this kind of life form is “Lazarus species.”
With genes as with documents, how much do the lost ones matter? If the recreated passenger pigeon was pretty much like the old one, what difference would it make? Shouldn’t the main question be, is this a good ecological idea overall?
Question: If Paul Ehrlich was wrong, why shouldn’t we just assume that Henry Gee is too?
Black’s essay is a tribute to “accidental evolution,” as if no serious explanation is required for the complex means by which boundaries are transcended.
Anyone who hopes for great things from the possibility that evolution can work very quickly needs to read this.
Why were two-thirds of the tuskless babies females? “They also suspected that the relevant gene was dominant – meaning that a female needs only one altered gene to become tuskless — and that when passed to male embryos, it may short-circuit their development.”
The description of the research makes clear that evolution is seen as an intelligent agent, like a coach deploying players. “Think of this as the biosphere’s version of choosing starters and benchwarmers based on height and weight more than skill after losing a big match. There may well be a logic to this game plan in the arc of evolution.” But can evolution be both mindless and a strategic coach?
Coyne: What they’d get would be a genetic chimera, an almost entirely Asian elephant but one that is hairier, chunkier, and more tolerant of cold. That is NOT a woolly mammoth, nor would it behave like a woolly mammoth, for they’re not inserting behavior genes.
Evolution is described in this story as if it was some sort of lesser god, making lower level decisions.