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Why is redundancy in nature a “puzzle”?

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beetle/Edmund Reitter (1908)

From ScienceDaily:

One of biology’s long-standing puzzles is how so many similar species can co-exist in nature. Do they really all fulfill a different role? Massive data on beetles now provide strong evidence for the idea that evolution can drive species into groups of look-a-likes that are functionally similar.

What does it mean to say that “evolution can drive species into” … Isn’t evolution just the sum total of what happens?

For whatever reason, the article doesn’t use the term convergent evolution, though that is clearly what it is discussing:

While it is clear that species fulfill many different roles in ecosystems, it has also been suggested that numerous species might actually share the same function in a near neutral way. So-far, however, it was unclear whether such functional redundancy really exists. The new study addresses this question using extensive data on the world’s 4168 species of diving beetles. It shows that across the globe these animals have evolved towards a small number of regularly-spaced body sizes, and that locally co-existing species are either very similar in size or differ by at least 35%. Surprisingly, intermediate size differences (10-20%) are rare. As body-size reflects functional aspects such as the food that these generalist predators can eat, these beetles thus form relatively distinct groups of functional look-a-likes. The striking global regularity of these patterns support the idea that a self-organizing process drives such species-rich groups to self-organize evolutionary into clusters.

Self-organization” As in a form of natural genetic (self-)engineering. But that is not a Darwinian process, and certainly not even imagined by Darwinian genetics.

Alas, the paper is a victim of the PC ‘crats in more than one way:

“This finding has important implications for how we look at the risks of losing species,” says Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University and lead author on the paper. “Our work suggests that evolution is a generator not only of functional complementarity but also of functional redundancy. However, such redundancy does not mean that these species are not needed for the functioning of nature.”

Actually that’s what the finding absolutely does mean; all those species are not needed for the functioning of nature.

Not that redundancy is an argument for driving any life form to extinction. But just to be clear, that is what the finding means. When natural selection and envirocrats get together, reasonable word use and discourse become impossible.

But Scheefer makes a very useful point here:

“It is also important to note that such resilience from functional redundancy will be much rarer in larger animals, simply because species richness decreases with body size in the animal kingdom,” Scheffer says. “It is therefore no surprise that especially the loss of large species can give rise to substantial functional change in ecosystems. While redundancy may be the rule in smaller creatures, the functional uniqueness of larger ones could imply that they are often the Achilles heel for ecological functioning.” More.

Back to the beetles for a moment, why was redundancy a puzzle anyway? A stable system typically features lots of redundancy.

Probably, the underlying Darwinian model encouraged researchers to think that one species would triumph over all the others.

But nature is not really very Darwinian, as we are discovering from many sources.

See also: Evolution: The fossils speak, but hardly with one voice for a quick rundown on what we now know.

Here’s the abstract:

While species fulfill many different roles in ecosystems, it has been suggested that numerous species might actually share the same function in a near neutral way. So-far, however, it is unclear whether such functional redundancy really exists. We scrutinize this question using extensive data on the world’s 4168 species of diving beetles. We show that across the globe these animals have evolved towards a small number of regularly-spaced body sizes, and that locally co-existing species are either very similar in size or differ by at least 35%. Surprisingly, intermediate size differences (10–20%) are rare. As body-size strongly reflects functional aspects such as the food that these generalist predators can eat, these beetles thus form relatively distinct groups of functional look-a-likes. The striking global regularity of these patterns support the idea that a self-organizing process drives such species-rich groups to self-organize evolutionary into clusters where functional redundancy ensures resilience through an insurance effect. (Public access .html) – Marten Scheffer, Remi Vergnon, Egbert H. van Nes, Jan G. M. Cuppen, Edwin T. H. M. Peeters, Remko Leijs, Anders N. Nilsson. The Evolution of Functionally Redundant Species; Evidence from Beetles. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (10): e0137974 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0137974

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18 Replies to “Why is redundancy in nature a “puzzle”?

  1. 1
    bFast says:

    I think Larry Moran would call upon his theory to explain this conundrum. He would suggest that if you separate any species into two groups and keep them relatively isolated for a couple of million years, that drift alone will separate them into two species.

    I think that this is a situation where Larry Moran’s theory is worthy of consideration as an explanation. If, however, it can be demonstrated that these separate species which occupy the same niche were never geographically isolated for millennia, then his theory would not provide an explanation. Classical darwinism clearly does not either. Another hypothesis anyone?

  2. 2
    wd400 says:

    Why is redundancy in nature a “puzzle”?

    Take populations of two functional identical species and place them in the same small isolated habitat. Come back after many generations, what do you expect to see?

    Because the number of “spots” in the population is finite and the number of offspring per individual is variable, it’s likely only one species will be left. A sort of ecological equivalent of genetic drift.

    So the question as to why apparent-redundancy does exists seem interesting, no?

  3. 3
    Zachriel says:

    wd400: Because the number of “spots” in the population is finite and the number of offspring per individual is variable, it’s likely only one species will be left. A sort of ecological equivalent of genetic drift.

    Or they’ll diverge; one adapted to live on top of the rock, and one adapted to live under the rock. Yet, the study showed that multiple species will sometimes continue to occupy the same niche, a seemingly unstable situation (per Turing). An interesting question.

  4. 4
    Bob O'H says:

    Yet, the study showed that multiple species will sometimes continue to occupy the same niche

    Not necessarily – they only look at size, so they could differ in other traits, which could mean niche divergence.

  5. 5
    Robert Byers says:

    Good idea for a thread. Its hilarious. Didn’t some evolutionist quip God had a fondness for beetles.?!
    It follows from a creationist view that beetles were first just one kind. Diversity was not from selection on mutation but other mechanisms and not not complicated. so they easily look alike. Yet a wee bit different.
    its unlikely evolutioni would com,e up with such common conclusions. Indeed where is the word convergent evolution. Its unlikely convergence would come up with such likeness.
    If they found the bugs were all more different then they would say AHA proof of evolutions mechanism. Unlikely common design and common adaptation mechanics.
    They didn’t find that AHA.

  6. 6
    PaV says:

    Why doesn’t a Darwinist comment on this: (from the Abstract)

    The striking global regularity of these patterns support the idea that a self-organizing process drives such species-rich groups to self-organize evolutionary into clusters where functional redundancy ensures resilience through an insurance effect.

    A “self-organizing process”: really? This doesn’t sound ‘random’ at all, does it? And it “drives” species to “self-organize.” Isn’t this teleology, or something very similar?

  7. 7
    PaV says:

    bFast:

    I think Larry Moran would call upon his theory to explain this conundrum. He would suggest that if you separate any species into two groups and keep them relatively isolated for a couple of million years, that drift alone will separate them into two species.

    To a degree, this would be correct. I don’t think anyone denies the possibilities that “drift” represents.

    However, “neutral drift” is NOT Darwinian evolution. NS is brought in as an after thought.

    This said, the problem as I see it for Moran’s thesis is this: why aren’t the various beetles gradated into smaller, finer sizes, a la Darwinian gradualism?

    The authors write: “Surprisingly, intermediate size differences (10–20%) are rare.”

    Of course, almost any article evolutionists write these days contain the word “surprised” in some form or other; but, the fact is that the beetles are not scalable. Why not?

    [[Just as an aside: A few years back I was reading Weiner’s book on the Galapagos Finches, and, in the beginning of his book as he began talking about what one encounters in the Galapagos, I noticed some kind of ‘law’, you might say, at work. One even saw this ‘law’ at work with the finches. Why hasn’t it been noticed before?

    I think the answer is that the Darwinian vision can’t see these kinds of things; they don’t know to look for them. Yet, it does seem to be a real biological ‘law’ at work, and this study confirms my suspicions even further.

    But where did this ‘law’ come from? Why does this ‘law’ exist? The author’s are scratching their heads about it, and the answer doesn’t seem to issue forth from Darwinian reasoning.]]

  8. 8
    Zachriel says:

    PaV: Isn’t this teleology, or something very similar?

    No, it’s a balance due to countervailing influences. A simple example would be a prey animal balancing between speed and resource efficiency (the energy for a burst of speed, as well as maintaining the musculature and other infrastructure). Too much speed, and the organism may have trouble maintaining its resource levels. Too little speed, and it’s lunch. Random variations in speed result in variation in the population, some using more resources for more speed, some using less, but the mean will tend towards a stable value in a stable environment. So we have a random process resulting in a balance of countervailing factors.

    In the case of the beetles in the study, the countervailing influence is the competition between species sharing a niche, which drives the species apart; and the opportunity potential if the competitor is wiped out by some extrinsic cause, which pushes them together. When there are a large number of species, then they can become locked into a stable configuration. When there are few species, then they tend to diverge.

  9. 9
    Box says:

    PaV,

    are you, in part, referring to “laws of form”, the topic of Michael Denton’s paper?

    excerpt:
    Consider the ‘numerology’ of the insect body plan. The insect body is divided into three parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. The thorax consists of three segments and each bears a pair of legs, six altogether. Eleven segments can be recognized in the abdomen of most juvenile insects and although some insect adults—including Coleoptera (beetles) and Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, ants, etc.)—have less than eleven, no insect has more than eleven. The legs of all insects consist of no more than five components, namely the coxa, the trochanter, the femur, the tibia, and the tarsus; the tarsus itself is typically divided into five subsegments (see Figure 2). The insect mouth in all the many diverse species always consists of four parts from front to back—the labrum, the mandibles, the maxillae, and the labium. And all insects possess two antennae, which are mobile jointed appendages [20].

  10. 10
    PaV says:

    Box:

    No, it has to do with body size, roughly. But Denton is always nice to read.

  11. 11
    PaV says:

    Zachriel:

    To IDers, what you’re saying is simply Darwin-speak: just words.

    How does “a prey animal balancing between speed and resource efficiency” have anything to do with a “self-organizing” process? These authors, I’m sure, are aware of what “balancing selection” is. Remember, they’re surprised.

  12. 12
    Zachriel says:

    PaV: How does “a prey animal balancing between speed and resource efficiency” have anything to do with a “self-organizing” process?

    It shows how a population can self-organize into the most efficient configuration for a given environmental condition.

    PaV: Remember, they’re surprised.

    Um, they were specifically testing the hypothesis that clustering would occur. The hypothesis derived from work by MacArthur and Levins in the 1960s, a fundamental mathematical insight on self-organization by Alan Turing in 1952, and supported by recent computer simulations.

    “What, did you think I was swimming completely naked?” — Richard Lenski

  13. 13
    PaV says:

    Zachriel:

    It shows how a population can self-organize into the most efficient configuration for a given environmental condition.

    Why is having body sizes that differ by 35% “the most efficient configuration for a given environmental condition,” especially when it happens in environments all over the world. What’s the basis for this claim?

    Um, they were specifically testing the hypothesis that clustering would occur. The hypothesis derived from work by MacArthur and Levins in the 1960s, a fundamental mathematical insight on self-organization by Alan Turing in 1952, and supported by recent computer simulations.

    Does this statement somehow disprove the fact that they were “surprised” by the findings?

  14. 14
    Zachriel says:

    PaV: Why is having body sizes that differ by 35% “the most efficient configuration for a given environmental condition,” especially when it happens in environments all over the world. What’s the basis for this claim?

    Functional redundancy provides resilience. If one species gets wiped out for some reason, another species can take advantage of the opportunity. This only happens, however, when there are a large number of species.

    PaV: Does this statement somehow disprove the fact that they were “surprised” by the findings?

    It’s surprising under the standard hypothesis, but expected under the hypothesis being tested. In other words, scientists make a prediction based on the hypothesis, tested it, and found the prediction confirmed.

  15. 15
    Virgil Cain says:

    Functional redundancy provides resilience.

    We observe functional redundancy with intelligent designs.

  16. 16
    PaV says:

    Zachriel:

    You’ve failed to give substantive answers.

    You speak in tautologies:

    E.g.: “It’s surprising under the standard hypothesis, but expected under the hypothesis being tested.”

    If the results are not “surprising” when a different hypothesis is being tested, then the ‘new’ hypothesis, confirmed by the ‘unsurprising’ results, is what is now surprising, not the results.

  17. 17
    Virgil Cain says:

    PaV:

    Zachriel:

    You’ve failed to give substantive answers.

    That makes it pretty much unanimous. Thank you, PaV

  18. 18
    Zachriel says:

    PaV: You speak in tautologies: E.g.: “It’s surprising under the standard hypothesis, but expected under the hypothesis being tested.”

    It’s hardly a tautology.

    Magician: “I’m going to pull a rabbit out of this hat. {Shows inside of hat is empty.}
    Audience: “No way!”
    Magician: Abracadabra! {pulls rabbit from hat}

    The researchers said, based on their hypothesis, they were going to show clustering in beetles. They showed clustering in beetles. While the audience is surprised, the hypothesis is supported. That’s not a tautology. It didn’t have to be that way. The beetles might not have clustered.

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