Ecology Evolution Intelligent Design

Researcher: Human impact is a “reshaping of the tree of life”

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Sara Otto, Zoology, UBC

Sarah Otto, a University of British Columbia researcher, tells media  about her research,

Her paper is replete with examples from bird species slowly forgetting to migrate to mosquito breeds adapted specifically to underground subway tunnels.

Backyard bird feeders are behind changes in the beak shape and strength of house finches. Different mammals are becoming nocturnal as a way to avoid human conflict. Introduced species change the ground rules for native plants and animals.

It’s a mistake to think evolution requires millennia, said Otto.

“Evolution happens really fast if the selection regimes are strong. We can see sometimes in plant populations evolutionary change in the course of years.”Bob Weber, “Humans are having huge influence on evolution of species, study says” at CBC

Timely warnings to be sure. Of course, most people don’t think of these types of changes as “evolution”; more like the improved prospects of life forms that feature specific, probably reversible, variations. Something more dramatic and permanent might be needed to reshape the tree of life.

Sometimes, it’s counterintuitive. Poaching favoured the survival of tuskless elephants.  Canada geese that no longer migrate have long been a nuisance in eastern Canada’s urban heat islands but what would happen if it turned cold again? Would they just take to the air again? Is there a reason why they couldn’t? But here’s the abstract:

Abstract: Humans have dramatically altered the planet over the course of a century, from the acidity of our oceans to the fragmentation of our landscapes and the temperature of our climate. Species find themselves in novel environments, within communities assembled from never before encountered mixtures of invasives and natives. The speed with which the biotic and abiotic environment of species has changed has already altered the evolutionary trajectory of species, a trend that promises to escalate. In this article, I reflect upon this altered course of evolution. Human activities have reshaped selection pressures, favouring individuals that better survive in our built landscapes, that avoid our hunting and fishing, and that best tolerate the species that we have introduced. Human-altered selection pressures have also modified how organisms live and move through the landscape, and even the nature of reproduction and genome structure. Humans are also shaping selection pressures at the species level, and I discuss how species traits are affecting both extinction and speciation rates in the Anthropocene. (open access) More.

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See also: Devolution: African elephants survive by shedding their tusks (no interest to poachers) The trait (no tusks or else have tiny tusks) was there all along but became an asset when the main foe was attracted to, rather than deterred by, tusks. The double whammy may have meant even more rapid change.

and

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