Contrary to what Darwin thought, The evolution of species does not take place over very long periods of time, but over short periods, even just a few years. in certain situations. This has been confirmed by a large group of scientists spread around the world as part of a project that makes it possible to demonstrate the speed of evolution to adapt to changes in the environment. This could be a weapon to deal with global warming, for example.
Darwinian evolution is the process by which natural selection induces genetic changes in certain traits that favor the survival and reproduction of individuals. The rate at which this evolution takes place mainly depends on the species’ ability to survive and reproduce.. Research by an international team with the participation of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Studies (Leibniz-IZW) has found that the raw material for evolution is much greater in wild animals than previously believed. Findings published Science.
Darwin thought of the evolutionary process as something slow, visible only in geological epochs. However, since then Researchers have discovered many cases of evolution that occurred over the course of a few years.. An example of this is the English pepper moth population, where the abundance of bicolor specimens has changed dramatically in just a few decades, as a result of the evolution of natural selection favoring different typologies depending on the level of air pollution. . . . However, it was unclear how quickly longer-lived animals such as birds and mammals could evolve and adapt to environmental change.
Two to four times faster than previously thought
Led by Timothée Bonnet of the Australian National University 40 researchers from 27 institutions took this question and measured how much “evolutionary fuel” is generally available in wild bird and mammal populations. Answer: Many bird and mammal populations can evolve surprisingly quickly: their genetic capacity for survival and reproduction is two to four times greater than previously thought.
One of the reasons previous studies have underestimated the evolutionary potential of species is that individuals who have never had children have not been taken into account. Doing so required the development of new statistical methods and a rigorous selection of data used for the study. Only wildlife populations that have been studied very carefully and over many years can qualify for this task. “To do this study, we needed to know when each individual was born, with whom they mate, when they had babies, and when they died,” Bonnet said. Said. Despite this difficulty, they managed to combine 2.6 million hours. Decades of field data collection and genetic analysis of 19 populations from 15 species from around the world.
One of the populations included in the study are the spotted hyenas from the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Leibniz-IZW scientists have been studying this population for more than 26 years and have compiled a genetic pedigree covering more than 2,000 individuals over eight generations. Other populations included wrens from Australia, songbirds from Canada, and red deer from Scotland.
If the new study revealed more “evolutionary fuel” than expected, it also revealed notable differences between species.. Spotted hyenas turned out to have the most “fuel” among the 15 species studied. This came as a surprise to the Leibniz-IZW team. “Spotted hyenas can live in any type of habitat and are the most common large carnivores in Africa. This indicates that they can adapt well to new environments, but we did not expect them to be among the most suitable for it among all the species studied,” said Oliver Höner of Leibniz-IZW and co-author of the study.
Social learning does not affect
In addition to collecting massive amounts of data over the decades and developing new methods, the team had an additional challenge to overcome. In highly social species such as the spotted hyena, changes in influencing traits Individual survival and reproduction may be driven not only by genetic inheritance, but also by social processes such as social learning.
The method used to assess the amount of “evolutionary fuel” cannot cope with the specific details of each population. Then, The team needed to find a way to control for possible biases caused by social inheritance.. To do this, Leibniz-IZW’s Alexandre Courtiol and Liam Bailey designed computer simulations representing a theoretical population of hyenas where heredity would be purely social, and compared the estimated amount of “evolutionary fuel” for these hyenas. “These additional tests did not change the results, meaning that hyena populations relatively high amount of ‘evolution fuel’ embedded in gene poolssaid Courtiol.
According to the researchers, their findings have implications for predictions of the ability of species to adapt to environmental change, for example caused by the climate crisis.
“This research showed us that it cannot be ruled out that evolution has allowed species to adapt to survive in response to rapid environmental changes,” Bonnet said. “With habitats for many species changing at an accelerating rate, there’s no guarantee that these populations can keep up. We can say that evolution is a much more important driver than previously thought in the ability of populations to adapt to the environmental changes we are now seeing.“.
Reference research: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abk0853
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