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When evolution prefers stupidity, ugliness and insignificance

When evolution prefers stupidity, ugliness and insignificance

Evolution doesn’t necessarily cause species to appear larger, prettier, or smarter than their ancestors. Sometimes simplicity is preferred.

Evolution education often relies on examples of charismatic organisms, such as birds with flaming feathers or colorful orchids that compete in evolution. “Everything evokes greatness and beauty: hominins have evolved larger brains over the course of evolution, whales and horses have evolved from much smaller ancestors, and peacocks have acquired seductive traits. With these long, beautiful and vertebrate evolutionary examples, no one can blame a naive person for believing that change is Evolutionary tends to make lineages smarter, bigger and more beautiful over time. ”

This note was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution In 2020, it is doctoral student Jesse Chickanski Muir and biologist Rebecca Rondell, from the School of Environmental Science and Forestry at New York University, Syracuse. The title of their article alone sums up the whole point: Stupid, obnoxious, and petty life forms: the predominance of non-charismatic invertebrates as part of a healthy biological view of life.

This true calling aims to elevate invertebrates to evolutionary parables, just like peacocks, elephants, and other camels in this world. After all, these creatures account for more than 95% of the animal diversity. It would be unfair to ignore it. Especially since, contrary to what one might think, evolution can also favor “declining” towards simpler or fewer aesthetic forms. In order to fight evolutionary biases, Quebec Science Talk to Jesse Czekanski-Muir.

QS: Training courses on evolution are generally based on charismatic animals, which demonstrate the complexity of living things. How is this biased?

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CWY: When we’re doing evolutionary outreach to the public, or trying to get our students’ attention, it’s tempting to use examples from organizations that are very large, beautiful, or engaging. These creatures often exhibit extreme characteristics (human intelligence, whale size, peacock tail magnificence, etc.), so it is likely that they evolved from less extreme ancestors.

This can lead to the misconception that evolution always leads to smarter, bigger, and more beautiful beings. The goal of our article was to use examples at the other end of the spectrum – live animals with few or no neurons, very small animals, animals that are distinctive or simply mysterious in terms of the evolution of another method – to show that evolution can be It can lead to many results. Sometimes, they can be small, dumb, or ugly as a result of an evolutionary adaptation.

QS : Do people tend to think of development as one-way, toward a kind of “progress”?

JCM: Yeah, that’s what arises from our interactions with students and colleagues – and sometimes with evolutionary biologists. The most widespread representation of this “ladder of progress” concept is the picture of human evolution, which shows a left-to-right progression of a monkey or ape ancestor towardHomo sapiens Anatomically speaking.

Source: Wiki Tkgd2007

However, he quote Stephen J. Gould (his book Life is beautiful Inspired by our article), “Life is like a dense jungle pattern, with countless branches and constantly being pruned by the vicious pruning shears of extinction, not on a predictable scale of progression.”

Natural selection is an important driver of evolution (other major processes are intra-population gene flow or sometimes between species, genetic drift and mutations). When we talk about the concept of “survival of the fittest,” some people automatically imagine that the bigger and stronger specimens have the advantage.

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This may be due to the patriarchal and patriarchal worldview that many scholars have maintained since the time of Darwin. But there are many ways to be “fit” to evolve, which simply means passing on more genes to future generations. Sometimes an improvement in a physical condition can be achieved by minimizing or by losing an eye or a brain.

QS: You indicated that invertebrates account for more than 95% of the animal diversity. So the popular view of the “animal kingdom” is very partial! Should we put invertebrates back in their rightful place?

JCM: Indeed, it is vitally important to bring invertebrates back to the core of teaching! It perfectly illustrates the fact that evolution doesn’t always go in the direction we are intuitively thinking. Although we used derogatory language in our article, we tried to convey our admiration and affection for invertebrates.

But we could also have written an article on the evolution of plants or fungi. There are many examples of miniaturization in plants. The fungi may have returned to unicellular forms several times during evolution.

Some plants have become parasites. They get all the carbon from other plants or fungi, not through photosynthesis, and as a result, they have undergone significant structural and genetic simplification (they lost their leaves, in particular).

QS: At the end of 2020, botanists at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, United Kingdom awarded a newly discovered plant the title “The ugliest lizard in the world”. Is not the beauty of living things subjective?

JCM: There is really a lot of subjectivity in both what we find beautiful and what we find ugly. I suppose when they found out, Kew botanists could still feel the “grandeur” of life that Darwin referred to at the end of The origin of the species.

Gastrodia agnicellus. Credit Rick Burian

This orchid is neither ugly nor disgusting, but it does not please the beauty of popular orchids: bright colors, complex morphology. It is the ugliest orchid because it is the least beautiful, not necessarily because it evokes a reaction of disgust in us.

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However, sexual selection and beauty are at the heart of orchids’ evolution. Many orchids become beautiful because they provide visual cues to pollinators such as moths and bees. Sometimes these visual cues are honest announcements of a reward (like nectar), but sometimes they are a deceptive mimic of the morphology of a pollinator female that the male mates with.

It seems likely that these ugly species of orchids don’t need visual tricks to attract pollinators – they attract pollinators with their scent. Although visually boring to us, from a sensory point of view of pollinators, Gastrodia agnicellus It is one of the most beautiful things in the forest.