Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Evolution Has Some 'Splaining To Do

Evolution is always presented as a long, tedious process that takes many aeons to create current life forms. Things don't change overnight or have any sort of design or intelligence directing them. Or do they?

This article about Columbine Flowers and their nectar spurs has some intriguing implications.
Here's a a quote that summarizes the basics:

"In Darwin's race, plants with the longest spurs and pollinators with the
longest tongues [to tap the flowers' nectar] would be favored by natural
selection, and--in a never-ending process--continually drive the plants'
spurs and the pollinator tongues to exceptionally long lengths."
--Scott Hodges
The flower wants to be pollinated in order to reproduce. To lure potential pollinators, it provides food in the form of nectar. As the pollinator drinks the nectar, its body is dusted with pollen and fertilizes the flower. Thus, in order to be pollinated, the nectar spur has to match the body type of its pollinator. Small tongue, small spur. Long tongue, long spur.

Theoretically, the flowers with a specific length of spur would continue to flourish and grow their spurs. The pollinators accustomed to them would continue to grow longer tongues to feed on them. Evolution doesn't allow for the plant to say to itself, "I am perfectly comfortable as is. I think I'll stop changing now."

It seems that the Columbine Flower doesn't want to listen to Darwin. According to the study, the flowers stop "evolving" once they have a set of consistent pollinators. If the pollinators change suddenly, then the flowers change rapidly to adapt to the new pollinators.

How cool is that? It's almost as if they were designed to know what they needed to do. :-)

"Hey what happened to those bumblebees?.......Well, maybe I'll court that Hummingbird over there. He's kind of cute. I know just the thing....a longer nectar spur. He'll never be able to resist it."

This same sort of rapid change within a species has also been noticed in a study of foxes in Siberia. Since 1959, researchers have bred silver foxes for tameness and non-aggression toward humans. They definitely got what they were aiming for, but several other things began to happen. The foxes began to behave more like dogs than foxes. Breeding for tameness produced foxes that could vocalize like dogs, show the same type of social intelligence as dogs, have drastic color changes in fur, and even some cute floppy ears. All of these physical changes came from breeding for one behavioral trait. I recommend reading the entire article. It's fascinating.

Over the course of almost 50 years, a species has been changed drastically--physically and cognitively.

It has implications for how we view the development of animals. Instead of thinking that dogs evolved over hundreds of thousands of years as offshoots of wolves, it is quite possible that the changes necessary to produce what we would call a dog, could have begun to happen in hundreds of years--a blink of an eye in evolutionary thought. Watch Dogs That Changed the World from Nova. Besides showing lots of cute dogs, it delves into the devlopment of dogs as a whole, offering new theories about when and how they came from wolves.

Although flowers and foxes are completely unrelated species and fields of study, these studies have one thing in common; they are counter-intuitive to traditional evolutionary thought. We can see in both of these instances that drastic changes can happen quickly within a species. It is important to note this when being confronted with the certainty with which evolutionists seem to date specific developments of species and traits.

***UPDATE***

Through another website, I found out that "rapidly" may mean 1 million years! :-0 (in regard to the flowers)

So, take that part in stride. However, that is less than half the time normally thought to develop a species such as the Columbine. My point still is that there is a lot of uncertainty in the dating of evolutionary events. I just think it's interesting the way that pops up in science news.

1 comment:

Your hubby said...

I'll admit it, I definitely married up. ;-) You never cease to impress me with your keen insights and observations.