22 May 2008

Evolution in action

An eighth of US high school biology teachers believes creationism represents valid science. They are ignoring the evidence of their eyes. Evolution is apparently going on right before our eyes. Denial takes many forms, and the unreality of it all is not particularly helpful to society.

Southeast Texas (my original home...) is apparently becoming infested with a previously unknown species of ant. The ants

...belong to the genus Paratrechina, like others seen in Colombia, the Caribbean and Florida... but are different enough for entomologists to only guess at their species

...The ants often eat fire ants, with which they are sometimes compared, and they “outcompete” fire ants for the food supply and reproduce far faster

Having been the victim of fire ants on many occasions in my earlier life, I found the last point particularly interesting. The ants have been reported in 5 counties in this region, and are not expect to move too far inland from the coast. Is this an invader species rapidly adapting to a new clime? Or is something else driving this? Maybe a misidentification?

On remote Gough Island in the South Atlantic, giant carnivorous mice are threatening the worlds largest seabird colony. The humble house mouse, introduced onto the island by whalers within the last 150 years or so

...has somehow evolved to two or even three times the size of an ordinary British house [mouse], and instead of being a vegetarian, eating insects and seeds, has adapted itself to become a carnivore, eating albatross, petrel and shearwater chicks alive in their nests. They are now believed to be the largest mice found anywhere in the world.

The Great Beyond links to an apparently gruesome video of an attack. (I declined to watch it...). With a nigh-unlimited and easily obtained food supply, it's not hard to imagine these parameters driving the evolution of the mice. (Just consider the relationships of modern humans of the global North with food consumption or energy use...). Too bad the birds, several species of which are critically endangered, haven't responded.

While these changes are not driven by climate change per se, they are human caused problems. Even seemingly innocuous manipulations of the environment – intentional or otherwise – have enormous, often unpredicted impacts. We need to be cautious in our actions, altering the environment as little as possible while still maximizing the potential of humanity. This is our reality.

The minions of unreality – creationists, astrologers, climate change deniers – are a stubborn lot. Their anti-science attitudes contribute towards a business-as-usual inaction (or a purely reactive response, at best), a likely disaster for the planet. To progress towards real solutions, we must overcome this sort of willful ignorance of reality. Evolution happens! The stars don't care! Anthropogenic climate change is here and now! The manufacture of doubt must stop.

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