If a species becomes threatened with extinction due to rapid changes in its ecosystem, is it possible for evolution (natural selection) to speed up? In the past, researchers have used microbes and yeasts because they can test many generations in a small period of time. They hoped to apply what they learned to things like islands after tsunamis, forests after fires, the earth after the meteor impact that killed the dinosaurs, and that kind of thing.
It is now getting personal because of the impending climate change. Will humanity be able to evolve through the changes that are looking more and more inevitable? A special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society summarized the findings on what researchers have termed “rapid evolution” (RE). This is not my area of expertise, but I think I can adequately summarize the basics.
Here are the factors the help a species evolve rapidly:
· Starting with a large population. I think seven billion is pretty large!!
· Genetic diversity. I think we have that too, There are some real bizaros out there.
· Rapid intrinsic mutation rate. Thanks to all the crap we now put into our bodies, I think we got that too.
· Strong natural fitness. Definitely not all of us, but there are some incredible specimens out there.
· Space in the ecosystem. Since we are killing off the other species in advance, I think we have done this for ourselves.
· Some luck.
Hmmm. Maybe there is hope for us. Well, some evolved version of us. I wonder what that humanity would look like . . . .