Books of interest Evolution

New book: Evolution happens more quickly than we think

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An excerpt at ScienceFriday from Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution by zoologist Jonathan B. Losos:

Ironically, it was research on the birds bearing Darwin’s name—the Galápagos finches—that drove the dagger through the heart of the idea that evolution is always slow. Like the peppered moth, Darwin’s finches have become one of the poster-child examples of evolution, and not just because of their name and history. Rather, much of their fame stems from the extraordinary forty-year research program of Princeton biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant.

Starting in 1973, the Grants spent several months each year on the small, crater-shaped Galápageian island of Daphne Major. Their goal was to study the population of the medium ground finch (so named because there are both larger and smaller ground finch species) to see whether and how the population changed from one generation to the next and to attempt to measure natural selection driving such change.More.

Yes, but the changes, while swift, were not very important or difficult and have also been accounted for by hybridization.

From the publisher:

A major new book overturning our assumptions about how evolution works

Earth’s natural history is full of fascinating instances of convergence: phenomena like eyes and wings and tree-climbing lizards that have evolved independently, multiple times. But evolutionary biologists also point out many examples of contingency, cases where the tiniest change—a random mutation or an ancient butterfly sneeze—caused evolution to take a completely different course. What role does each force really play in the constantly changing natural world? Are the plants and animals that exist today, and we humans ourselves, inevitabilities or evolutionary flukes? And what does that say about life on other planets?

Jonathan Losos reveals what the latest breakthroughs in evolutionary biology can tell us about one of the greatest ongoing debates in science. He takes us around the globe to meet the researchers who are solving the deepest mysteries of life on Earth through their work in experimental evolutionary science. Losos himself is one of the leaders in this exciting new field, and he illustrates how experiments with guppies, fruit flies, bacteria, foxes, and field mice, along with his own work with anole lizards on Caribbean islands, are rewinding the tape of life to reveal just how rapid and predictable evolution can be.

Improbable Destinies will change the way we think and talk about evolution. Losos’s insights into natural selection and evolutionary change have far-reaching applications for protecting ecosystems, securing our food supply, and fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria. This compelling narrative offers a new understanding of ourselves and our role in the natural world and the cosmos.

Maybe, but he will need to do better than Darwin’s finches, the chosen excerpt. The biggest selling point is probably just the bird’s name.

See also: Brittle stars from 275 mya preserve old forms

11 Replies to “New book: Evolution happens more quickly than we think

  1. 1
    Dionisio says:

    Human evolution takes around 40 weeks from conception to birth. It takes a couple of decades to reach full form.
    It takes forever to reach maturity. It takes a miracle to get wisdom.
    🙂

  2. 2
    goodusername says:

    Yes, but the changes, while swift, were not very important or difficult and have also been accounted for by hybridization.

    The changes that the Grants witnessed (if you’re talking about the adaptations to drought conditions, and wet conditions etc) were not the result of hybridization. The Grants kept track of who mated with who and how many offspring they had, etc.

  3. 3
    News says:

    goodusername at 2, sfaik some sources have suggested hybridization but in any event it is not a big change. I don’t think one can build a revolutionary understanding of evolution on this kind of thing. Possibly, the publisher made a mistake in the choice of excerpt.

  4. 4
    goodusername says:

    News,

    goodusername at 2, sfaik some sources have suggested hybridization but in any event it is not a big change.

    Hybridization does occur, but no one suggests that hybridization is the cause of the changes that the Grants witnessed.

  5. 5
    vmahuna says:

    So this really fast Evolution accounts for gazillions of years of Stasis HOW? As the old question goes: If man is descended from the apes, why are there still any apes?

    Bats appeared POOF! fully formed and without ancestors. Same with whales. They then remained in their original forms for 30-40 million years without Evolving into anything substantially different.

    If Evolution were generally true, then ALL of the ancestral species would have changed into something spiffier and more neato. Until Evolution can explain Stasis, it explains nothing.

  6. 6
    aarceng says:

    goodusername at 2, News at 3
    afaik the changes observed were the result of particularly severe selection during droughts. No new alleles or genes were involved. When the droughts ended the populations tended to revert to normal.

  7. 7
    Dionisio says:

    Human evolution takes around 9 months from conception to birth. It may take a couple of decades to reach full blown adulthood. A long and winding road leads to maturity. It takes a miracle to get true wisdom.

  8. 8
    Dionisio says:

    Are they referring to the embedded variability framework (EVF) that operates within the biological systems?
    Don’t birds remain birds? Bacteria remain bacteria? Plants remain plants? Amphibians remain amphibians? Apes remain apes? Humans remain humans? Many ethnic groups but all equally humans.
    The evo-devo fundamental conundrum remains unresolved:
    Dev(d) = Dev(a) + Delta(a,d)
    That’s the bottom line. The rest is speculation.
    Without Delta(a,d) there’s no way to get Dev(d) from Dev(a). That’s daydreaming illusion. Figment in their imagination. Pie pie in the sky.
    It’s time to get serious.
    A couple of years ago a science professor claimed to know exactly how morphogen gradients form, but even today the research papers point to the complexity of such an important process that still is poorly understood. As outstanding questions get answered new ones are raised. However, as every new discovery sheds more light on the elaborate cellular and molecular choreographies orchestrated within the biological systems, the emerging big picture points more and more to marvelously designed systems.

  9. 9
    News says:

    The thing is, it is not a dramatic change. Apparently not an irreversible change either. Thus not likely to

    change the way we think and talk about evolution. Losos’s insights into natural selection and evolutionary change have far-reaching applications for protecting ecosystems, securing our food supply, and fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria. This compelling narrative offers a new understanding of ourselves and our role in the natural world and the cosmos.

    as the publisher claims. If Losos has better examples his publisher let him down.

  10. 10
    Bob O'H says:

    vmahuna –

    So this really fast Evolution accounts for gazillions of years of Stasis HOW?

    Has anyone claimed that really fast evolution accounts for gazillions of years of stasis?

  11. 11
    Dionisio says:

    Has anybody figured out how to resolve the fundamental evo-devo formulation described @8 at least for one case?

    🙂

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