January 11, 2021

WE ARE ALL DESIGNIST:

Evolution's engineers: Organisms do not evolve blindly under forces beyond their control, but shape and influence the evolutionary environment itself (Lynn Chiu, 1/11/21, Aeon)

Humans are shaping the evolutionary future of life on Earth. We're not only causing mass extinctions, we're also forcing animals, plants and fungi to adapt to our manufactured world: city birds, for instance, are now singing higher notes, since the pitch seems to help their song carry over the sound of traffic. But while cultural knowledge and engineering have upgraded the human capacity to catalyse environmental change, the proclivity is common to all species. Scatter a few bacteria in a Petri dish and they will produce nutrient-rich byproducts that new bacteria strains can exploit, rapidly causing a multitude of diverse microbial populations to evolve. Beavers create ponds that are used as breeding grounds for ducks; web spiders make retreats that are exploited as hibernation sites by earthbound insects; plants modify soils through substances secreted from their roots. The way these organisms change their environment in turn changes the evolutionary pressures that they and others face as they struggle to survive and reproduce. Their actions, in other words, bias what is selected for. This process is known as 'niche construction' and all species do it, even if their effects are sometimes more modest and localised than ours.

Yet the theory of niche construction is controversial among evolutionary biologists, partly because natural selection is traditionally believed to work 'blindly': it is thought to sculpt organisms over millennia to become adapted to their ecological niches, with no steer from the goals or purposes of organisms.

Posted by at January 11, 2021 12:00 AM

  

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