Crumb Trail
     an impermanent travelogue
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Brad Allenby explains that part of Phoenix Environmentalism: Part I and Part II is:

It means accepting that humans will continue to impact evolutionary biodiversity, while creating designed biodiversity in companies and laboratories; that the world's ecosystems will change profoundly as a result of human activity; that more technology, not less, will characterize the world.
This isn't just old species going extinct to be replaced by laboratory creations, it also means evolution to adapt to human environments.
Evolution is operating with a vengeance in the urban environment as animals struggle to adapt to novel conditions and cope with "evolutionary illusions".

An animal is said to be in an evolutionary illusion or trap when it does something it has evolved to do, but at the wrong time or in the wrong place. The concept may help explain why so many squirrels get squashed on city streets, says Brown. For millions of years, squirrels have evolved to cross open spaces as quickly as possible, without wasting time watching for predators that they would not be able to escape anyway. "Ordinarily, that was a very sensible thing to do," he says. "But as an urban squirrel crossing four lanes of traffic, that's a bad idea."

Though ecologists used to dismiss urban areas as unworthy of study, they have recently begun to realise that cities provide an ideal theatre in which to see behaviour evolving at a pace rarely seen in the wild. City environments tend to be less variable than the countryside. Urban heat islands mean that insects can be active longer or throughout the year, and human activity provides urban wildlife with more stable, predictable sources of food and water.

It's a struggle but that's life. That has always been life. The field of adaptation is changing fast so evolution is in high gear. There is blood on the tracks, and road kill, but it also seems that there are survivors. There is a lot of worry that the pace is too fast, that many species will not be able to adjust so quickly. I suspect that this is true. Moreover, the reduced variability of developed environments seems that it would not reward great diversity, but I'm not sure how that works.

posted by back40 | 4/19/2006 11:22:00 PM


as animals struggle to adapt to novel conditions

I'm not sure that struggle describes the efforts of my local skunks and raccoons as they raid the neighbors' gardens, dog dishes, and pools on their nightly rounds. The suburban environment may be opening a lot of environmental niches favorable to some species, like the tiny geckos in my garage.

By Anonymous Mike Anderson, at 4:55 AM  

They struggle with one another for first dibs and turf and such. Have you noticed your geckos adopting semiotic apparel - you know, gang colors and such?

By Blogger back40, at 11:10 AM  

!! semiotic apparel !!

On the geckos, no. They just chill out under the Beamer.

But I do notice the visiting birds--San Antonio is a truckstop on several migration routes--scrounge a lot of colorful litter to pimp up their cribs.

By Anonymous Mike Anderson, at 5:41 AM  

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