In this Huffington Post article from this July, Mother Nature Network‘s Russell McLendon presents some startling information on the current effects of climate change on Evolution. To preface this commentary, it is important to first establish the link between climate change and evolution. It seems fairly obvious that the changing climate of the Earth would have some kind of effect on the path of evolution. However, the importance of that link should not go without secondary thought. After a recent trip to the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, I have become very interested in this link. Out of all of the information thrown at patrons of the exhibit, the climate change information had a very particular recurring presence.
After a good deal of research for the paper I was writing on the rhetorical context of the exhibit, I learned just how strong this link is in regard to human progress. The basic message of the information in the exhibit, and all of the supplementary material I researched, is that climate change is not just linked to evolution, it was and is, a driving force behind evolutionary progress. The theory holds that every major development in early humans from tool making, to walking upright, to increased brain size, has a direct link to the changing climate and environment surrounding them. The exhibit also underpins the idea that evolution continues today, as does climate change. The link between the two is certainly maintained as humanity, and every other species on the Earth moves forward.
The Hall of course is focused on the evolution of humanity, however, the basic principles of evolution apply to all living things. Within the theory of evolution exists the theory that climate change is driving force of evolution, and has a direct link, as is established above. The article talks more generally about climate change outpacing evolution. It references scientific studies, and specific information, but being republished in the Huffington Post means it is intended for the average person. That does not mean that this article does not present some startling information. If artificial climate change produced by humans forces species to evolve faster, the world could become a very different place. A quote from the article explains just how drastic the situation is:
“Every species has a climatic niche which is the set of temperature and precipitation conditions in the area where it lives and where it can survive,” co-author and University of Arizona ecologist John Wiens says in a press release. “We found that on average, species usually adapt to different climatic conditions at a rate of only about 1 degree Celsius per million years. But if global temperatures are going to rise by about 4 degrees over the next hundred years, as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, that is where you get a huge difference in rates. What that suggests overall is that simply evolving to match these conditions may not be an option for many species.”
This means that species will have either adapt to their current ecosystem, or find a new home that is favorable to the conditions they like, while racing against extinction, and facing the impeding factor that is humanity. According to the article, some species may be able to overcome the challenges, many others may not. This article however does not take into consideration the human factor in great detail. Not many species may search for habitats uninhabited by humans, but for many, the most favorable places may be areas humans already claim as their own. Humans, being apex predators will most likely not welcome exotic species moving into “their” habitat. The article also does not approach humanity as a species, and the effects climate change will have on us as a whole. Obviously, that is because it is a heady topic to consider, and the point of this article is not to uncover that, but certainly the silent question that this article poses is: What Will The Humans Do?
Furthermore, this article serves to prove the theoretical link between climate change and evolution (though both are considered theories, they are more or less universally accepted), and remind its everyday readers that the evolutionary process did not stop with Homo Sapiens, and the drive of climate change upon evolution has not stopped either. Part of the inspiration for this post comes from our classmate findwhatfind ‘s post on whether or not humans are the ultimate in evolution or another branch on the tree. Even if humans are the ultimate species in evolution, what will the whole world look like if artificial climate change continues? The public’s debate should no longer be ‘Is Global Warming real or not?”, it should be “The Earth is getting warmer, and humans are largely contributing to this, what can we do to be more responsible citizens of Planet Earth?”