No? Who thought they were? The controversy we are more familiar with here at Uncommon Descent is whether dogs, period, are a biological species, as opposed to a much-manipulated variety of wolf. The authors of Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution have studied the habits of dump dogs who live off human garbage closely:
The dog is a shape that has evolved to a new niche that was created when people switched from hunting and gathering to growing grain. The waste products of that activity created a food supply that supports village dogs. Were there dogs before the age of agriculture? Probably not, but if there were, they had adapted to a different niche.
A dump dog has few foraging costs compared with its wild relatives, which must put a huge effort into obtaining food. When one compares the cost with the benefit, dump dogs are way ahead. Getting calories is mostly easier for them.
The reason dogs make good pets is in large part because they have this innate behavior of finding somewhere to sit and wait for food to arrive, which is exactly what our pet dogs do. Their niche is scavenging food from humans. They are like ravens and foxes that scavenge food from wolves or humans. Where is that dog food supply? Look for humans, and there it is. Why are dogs nice to people? They are the source of food. Dogs find some food source that arrives daily and they sit there and wait.
One question we might ask, in order to find any foraging difference between dog and wolf, is whether wolves could scavenge the Mexico City dump as well as dogs do. All of a sudden when we ask the question that way, we begin to realize how well designed the dog is for its niche. Remember the design costs. It takes 1,000 calories a day to maintain a dog, and it takes 2,500 calories for a wolf just to hang around acting doglike. Raymond Coppinger & Lorna Coppinger, “Only Street Dogs Are Real Dogs” at Nautilus
The Coppinger team’s basic argument is that what distinguishes the dump dog from the wolf is his low maintenance cost, on account of his tendency to sit around and wait for humans to provide him with refuse. But now, if most humans started incinerating their garbage, would dump dogs slowly start becoming more wolf-like?
Their assertion shows, of course, what a mess the biological species concept is. If anyone does think all those breeds of dogs are really species, well…
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See also: Researchers: Tooth studies show that Neanderthals “split” from modern humans 800 kya, not 300-500 kya If Neanderthals “diverged” from “modern humans” 800,000 years ago but many of us have Neanderthal genes (yeah, 23andMe stuff, for sure), what chance is there that much of the contention is based on the fact that we don’t really know enough to be sure of very many things?
Researchers: Sediba is not a human ancestor after all. Back to Lucy, but… The anthropologist is right, the fossil record IS full of surprises. But the news that Lucy is only “the best candidate” is worth some reflection. It sounds like we have little to go on and Lucy is at best plausible.
A physicist looks at biology’s problem of “speciation” in humans
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