Evolution by human hand
Living with bears is surprisingly easy, in concept at least. Prevent easy access to garbage and associate it with a scary or unpleasant experience when they do.No one likes a visit to the dentist, and bears are no exception. In the Smokies habitual-garbage bears are given a physical when caught. Often they have bad teeth, prompting their search for softer food (doughnuts]) instead of nuts. Biting a bear-proof bin helps compound dental decay. A quick set of root canals and a butt full of rubber bullets when they’re released is enough to convince most that a sweet tooth isn’t worth it.It’s not that hard to keep garbage inside till the morning of collection, but the inactions of a few Eagle-Vail residents caused the death of two bears. For some people, any personal inconvenience is too much and so what if it costs others” The bears pay with their lives, and the majority of residents who do care feel the loss. Everyone also runs the chance of bumping into a garbage-addicted bear. That’s a local example of why regulations are needed to protect the common resource of our environment.It looks as if wildlife will have adapt to us. Despite our big brains and behavioral flexibility, we prefer not to bother. Scientists always thought quick adaptations to a changing environment, “contemporary evolution,” was an exception to evolution’s gradual process of change. Now they’re noticing a lot of fast evolution. Bacteria’s rapid resistance to antibiotics is the obvious example, but it’s also happening in larger animals, often so quickly that without detailed records you wouldn’t notice it. It’s a nice rebuttal to the intellectual dead end of “intelligent design” that loves to say, “Show me.”The University of California details a genetic cycle of males and mating strategies in the side-blotched lizard. There are three types of males, determined by different throat colors and behavior. What works depends on the predominant population at that time. Orange-throated males are aggressive and bully the smaller blue-throated males off their females. Yellow-throated males are sneaky, disguising themselves as females, slipping past the macho flexing orange throats to impregnate their females. Blue-throated males pay close attention to females and prevent any yellow-throated males from sneaking in. It’s an evolutionary game of rock-paper-scissors with the population cycling through each color every five years.Human activity exerts strong and directional selection pressure. Red squirrels in the Yukon give birth 18 days earlier than 10 years ago and birds are changing their migrations as the climate heats up.Elephants are developing a tuskless gene as a response to poaching pressure. Hunters of bighorn sheep in Canada have a similar effect. A legal trophy ram is one whose horns curl in a full circle. In a highly hunted area a ram can expect to live only a year after it’s got a full curl, and small horned mature males have a big advantage. Sure enough, studies found that average horn size is 25 percent smaller than 30 years ago. Due to linkage, big horns tend to go with better overall genes, so we’re selecting for less fit animals. Trophy hunters are doing few favors when they kill the best animals. They’re eroding the gene pool to prove a bullet is faster than the quickest hooves and that our whole arms-optics industry is more powerful than a dominant bull’s physique – big deal.The same principle is a flaw in fisheries management. Nets are sized to let the small fish go while keeping the big ones. Cod now mature smaller, and this is a problem. Big fish are the proven studs of the sea. They produce many more eggs and their off-spring are more likely to survive. Taking these whoppers truly does leave a hole in the sea that’s hard to fill.Helping the most successful should be an easy sell to this administration. What would society look like if we selectively destroyed every successful entrepreneur, leaving only the mediocre bureaucrats behind. Why do it to fish?Marine sanctuaries are proving to be successful as havens where fish can be big and allow populations to recover and repopulate the surrounding ocean. Fishing is much better with sanctuaries around. Big game hunters might think of similar reserves if they still want those big heads in the future.The larger the gene pool, the better the chance a species has of adapting to change. This is sad for the rare species. They might not have the ability left in their small populations. The rising of the ivory billed woodpecker, a phoenix from the ashes of extinction, is a glimmer in the gloom of we’re causing in the world. The extinction rate is 10,000 times the natural rate. Mankind, not an asteroid, is on his way to claiming responsibility for the sixth mass extinction on this planet.The ivory billed woodpecker is receiving millions for its recovery, and I hope it survives. Every species is a line from the past, a remarkable chain back to the beginnings of life on earth, an irreplaceable answer to the varied problems of living. None deserve to be kicked off the table of life by one greedy species – at least not knowingly.Changing the energy policies that drive climate change and our convenience, throw-away consumption that turns habitats into landfills would be better.”Dead as a dodo” is a sad quote. Extinction is as dead and gone as can be. It’s sobering. No species, even one as special as ours, is immune to extinction. With our destruction of the earth’s inheritance, we’re using up our global karma pretty quickly.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado
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