Discussion Board

Topic: Rapid Evolution

From: Michael Ronayne
Location: Nutley, New Jersey
Date: 08/03/2008


You need to start thinking about a new book in the Darwin series. Science is catch-up with your Science Fiction or you have a time machine which you are not sharing with your readers.

On December 10, 2006 I sent you an Email on the topic Quantum Biology (http://www.gregbear.com/blog/display.cfm?id=430) on rapid evolutionary changes in the morphology on the Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis). A similar phenomenon, on a 36 year time scale, has now been observed in the Italian wall lizard (Podarcis sicula) as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (March 25, 2008, vol. 105 no. 12 4792-4795).

After I Emailed you, I speculated on a fish hobbyist forum, that the Devils Hole pupfish and Amargosa River pupfish were genetically the same species and several Environmentalists started denouncing such a suggestion. The discussions grew so heated that the moderator had to intervene. The Supreme Court decision upholding the Endangered Species Act depended on Cyprinodon diabolis being a unique species; if the Devils Hole pupfish is not a unique species, an appeal could be filed. The entire issue begs the question as to exactly what is a species. If the findings the PNAS paper apply to other species, one of the proposed strategies to save endangered species, know as Assisted Migration, may be doomed from the start for some species. The relocated species, if it survives in its new home, will rapidly evolve into a new species.

If additional examples of rapid evolution are identified, Creationists, Intelligent Designers and Environmentalists may find themselves strange bed fellows; all three groups suffer from the delusion that they can maintain the statuesque. I will have to go back and reread Origin of Species again to see what Charles Darwin had to say of evolutionary time scales. Doing a quick text search (via Microsoft Reader), Darwin appears to have again anticipated current research reports, even though the primary theory in the Origin of Species was the evolution was a slow process through natural selection.

With hermaphrodite organisms which cross only occasionally, and likewise with animals which unite for each birth, but which wander little and can increase at a rapid rate, a new and improved variety might be quickly formed on any one spot, and might there maintain itself in a body and afterwards spread, so that the individuals of the new variety would chiefly cross together.

Islands and water-holes are the true wellsprings of creation. If you want to give evolution a kick start, isolate the population. Darwin was and still is truly amazing!


Hyper-Speed Evolution Discovered

Rapid large-scale evolutionary divergence in morphology and performance associated with exploitation of a different dietary resource

Differences in morphology, performance and behaviour between recently diverged populations of Podarcis sicula mirror differences in predation pressure.

Re: Rapid Evolution

From: Greg Bear
Date: 08/03/2008

Fascinating! We already know examples of severe morphological evolution in arthropods and plants over short time scales: cladocerans (water fleas), wings on stick insects (come and go in relatively short time scales). All of these seem to be quick (in some cases, in one generation) adaptive responses to environmental change. In fish, similar morphological differences in individuals of the same species (salmon with white or pale/marbled flesh, another example) puts even more pressure on biologists to justify species diffrentiation. (Or is flesh color like hair color or pelt texture in mammals?) A species differentiation in Darwin's day chiefly referred to the inability to interbreed, but now has undergone a number of definitional changes. Tough to keep up! Darwin and his followers were indeed thinking on very large time scales, and early evolutionists were greatly relieved when astronomers showed the universe was more than a few million years old. My conclusion was, and remains, that evolutionary change is far more complex and rich than was once thought. Even variation can vary!

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