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Thread: Extinctions and evolution

  1. #1 Extinctions and evolution 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Quoting from New Scientist, 11 January 2014, page 29.

    Interview with Chris. Thomas, University of York, UK, specialist in human impact on global diversity.

    It would appear that the current rash of extinctions has a silver lining. Dr. Thomas points to the many extinctions, but also points out that periods of environmental change are always accompanied by a plethora of new species appearing, better adapted to the new conditions. The first of these new species are already appearing, mainly due to hybridisation producing new kinds that are better adapted. For example : two fruit fly species in North America have joined and evolved to colonise an invasive species of honeysuckle.

    Dr. Thomas suggests that the introduction of alien species, despite sometimes causing major ecological problems, also add to biodiversity. Britain, for example, has about 1800 species of plant that are alien. But these have caused no extinctions of natives. In terms of ecology, change is neither good or bad. It is just change. Human generated change is causing extinctions. It is also causing new species to emerge. More will come as time passes.


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    The big problem with humans is not the change itself, but the selective change.

    Homo sapiens is easily one of the most widespread species on Earth, and undoubtably the strongest too (technology taken in account).

    Now, for some reason (which is for evolutionary psychology to research) humans are more ready to destroy species that are more "like" us. This includes most large animals, especially predators. This is the reason why you don't see any lion species that are not endangered. Before we were this widespread, there were many, many more large mammals and birds around.

    We selectively drove them to extinction.


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    While new species arrive in the wake of mass extinctions, that does not mitigate the moral issues associated with causing said mass extinction. There are also short-term issues to be concerned about on top of the issues that (no pun intended) crop up when we remove diversity in favor of agricultural plants or those that benefit us and not the environment.

    For instance, the maize we use for cattle feed and human consumption is a relatively new plant. Yet it is incapable of surviving without human intervention. Do we consider it a bonus that such a species has arisen where a competitive, fit species may now be extinct?

    I disagree that change is neither good nor bad. It is good or bad from a certain perspective.
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    Nature has always favored the strongest, right now that's us.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    I disagree that change is neither good nor bad. It is good or bad from a certain perspective.
    Flick

    While I understand your view here, I have to say that this is not what Dr. Thomas said. I can also see why he said what he said. Even extinctions, from a certain viewpoint, cannot be called 'bad'. After all, 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct, and they have been replaced by others. The species that died, and the species that replaced it, are neither better or worse than the other. Thus, the extinction and replacement are neither good or bad.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ezze View Post

    Homo sapiens is easily one of the most widespread species on Earth
    What do you mean by "most widespread species"? There are species that vastly outnumber homo sapiens, and there are species that cover more of the Earth's surface than homo sapiens. So which meaning was yours?
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    Quote Originally Posted by siledre View Post
    Nature has always favored the strongest, right now that's us.
    You think we are stronger than elephants? More resilient than mold? Have more of an effect on the Earth than plankton? Hardier than cockroaches?

    We tell ourselves that we are the strongest, the best, the most winningest species out there - but we're really just good at making ourselves comfortable. We're not even that resilient; one meteor impact, or even one good volcanic eruption, and we'd realize that we're really not all that strong.
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    Billvon

    I agree with siledre.
    Strength in nature is really the ability to survive and multiply. Humanity has survived, and multiplied, and now covers the globe. The few species that have done as well have done so by riding on our success. Rats and cockroaches hide in human vehicles and ride with us.

    However, I also think the future will show an even greater success for humanity. We have taken the first step on the greatest adventure of all, that will lead to us colonising other star systems. Assuming no devastating disaster in the next few hundred years, humanity will spread to the stars. We will take with us those organisms that we choose, as the most useful, or the most decorative.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    We will take with us those organisms that we choose, as the most useful, or the most decorative.
    That's a tiny tiny tiny fraction of life on Earth, leaving the rest to parish.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Strength in nature is really the ability to survive and multiply.
    Then mold, plankton, ants and lichen are far stronger than humanity.
    Humanity has survived, and multiplied, and now covers the globe. The few species that have done as well have done so by riding on our success. Rats and cockroaches hide in human vehicles and ride with us.
    Rats and cockroaches outnumber us DESPITE our best efforts to kill them. Who's winning there?
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    Billvon

    Rats and cockroaches will not be among those organisms who colonise the stars. Survival long term will be determined by those organisms that pose benefits for humanity. However, Lynx, a more sophisticated knowledge of ecology will include an appreciation of the role of the millions of small organisms. They, too, will colonise other star systems.

    Besides which, extermination of pests has barely begun. I posed the following on another thread. The revolution in robots has begun. Over the next few decades, we can expect robots to become much cheaper and much more sophisticated. It will then be feasible to build millions of tiny robots that are designed to kill rats and cockroaches. There will be no place to hide.
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    [QUOTE=skeptic;517136]
    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    Flick

    While I understand your view here, I have to say that this is not what Dr. Thomas said. I can also see why he said what he said. Even extinctions, from a certain viewpoint, cannot be called 'bad'. After all, 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct, and they have been replaced by others. The species that died, and the species that replaced it, are neither better or worse than the other. Thus, the extinction and replacement are neither good or bad.
    Weirdly, the last part of my post was in response to a completely unrelated thread. Not sure how I got so confused. Sorry...
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Rats and cockroaches will not be among those organisms who colonise the stars
    Oh, I bet there are already cockroaches on the ISS - and they will go with us to the stars.

    Survival long term will be determined by those organisms that pose benefits for humanity.
    Then why are organisms like aspergillis, cockroaches, clostridium botulinim, vancomycin-resistant enterococcus, methicillin resistant staph aureus, malaria, hookworms and ascaris still around, and gaining ground? We'd eradicate them all if we could - but they are stronger than us, and resist our efforts.

    Besides which, extermination of pests has barely begun. I posed the following on another thread. The revolution in robots has begun. Over the next few decades, we can expect robots to become much cheaper and much more sophisticated. It will then be feasible to build millions of tiny robots that are designed to kill rats and cockroaches. There will be no place to hide.
    Oh, I have no doubt that better cockroaches will evolve to beat the robots, just as better bacteria have evolved to beat our antibiotics.

    We humans have a pretty inflated view of our superiority and our self-importance. We are really neither all that superior nor all that important. We're just smarter - and even that is not a universally good thing, as a few hundred thousand former residents of two Japanese cities came to learn.
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    To billvon

    Re surviving pathogens.

    The elimination of pathogens is a work in progress. We have eliminated smallpox. We have mostly eliminated polio and leprosy. Once prevalent killers like the black death and scarlet fever, and measles, now have more nuisance value. Even AIDS is well on the way to being controlled.

    You, billvon, seem to suffer from the belief that if you have not solved a problem by 100%, but only by 90%, then no progress has been made. That is a fallacy. Relatively few problems are eliminated, but they are frequently reduced to the point where we can almost forget them. This is true for most pathogens, and we now lose more human lives to heart disease, cancer, and dementia, which were once minor killers due to the fact that the major killers prevented people living long enough. And heart disease, cancer, and dementia are becoming less potent as mass killers.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pyoko View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Ezze View Post

    Homo sapiens is easily one of the most widespread species on Earth
    What do you mean by "most widespread species"? There are species that vastly outnumber homo sapiens, and there are species that cover more of the Earth's surface than homo sapiens. So which meaning was yours?

    My meaning was that homo sapiens is really one of the few species that can be found from the deserts of Africa to the icy regions of Antartica. We might be not the most in numbers, but there is no single animal over 50 kg bodyweight what has more numbers than us (except the ones we domesticated). This is clearly a sign of my thoughts on "selective extinction".


    -----


    As to the other posts: extinction is indeed a natural part of the evolution. The problem is, we shape our globe more than anything ever before, and we can not foresee or modify the consequences. We not only caused the fifth mass extinction in Earth's history, we pollute the air, deplete phosphorus mines, build vast large cities, control rivers, and so on. We just do not know what the effect of this over-using will be.
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