No Silver Lining

2 comments May 29th, 2008at 07:18am Posted by Eli

As much as I like Olivia Judson, I think she’s kinda off the mark here:

…[E]ach mass extinction has been followed by a pulse of fresh evolutionary change: large numbers of new forms appear. The reason is that before the mass extinction, most niches are occupied — a situation that typically prevents radical changes. Afterwards, many niches are empty and available for re-occupation — which promotes rapid change….

Taking the long view, then, the extinctions we are causing may open the way to a burst of evolutionary invention, the creation of new forms even more remarkable than those around today.

I really wish that I could believe that.  The problem is, as long as humans go on being humans, the manmade stresses on – or outright destruction of – those niches will continue, and will kill off any emerging species just as surely as they killed off the existing ones.  This clean slate/renewal model only works when the mass extinctions are caused by a one-time catastrophic event, not a catastrophic event that hangs around, continuing to be catastrophic, for millenia upon millenia.

To be completely fair, Judson talks about a 10 million year timeframe for new species to emerge, so there’s a chance that mankind will have either died out, moved on, or changed its ways by then.  Although there’s an even better chance that we will have wrecked the planet beyond repair well before then, leaving nothing but wasteland behind for prospective new species to occupy.

And that’s your cheery thought for the day.

Entry Filed under: Science


  • 1. Spear and Magic  |  May 29th, 2008 at 9:39 am

    Before human life is finally and completely obliterated on this globe, would the last person left please remember to leave a mysterious white object up in our arctic region? Thanks! Scientists from other planets apparently go ape over that kind of stuff ….

  • 2. PBurns  |  May 29th, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    A couple of points about Olivia Judson’s piece:

    1. The quagga is not a species, but a subspecies.

    2. It is not extinct.

    3. The Harpy Eagle, named as endangered, is not endangered.

    4. The story on extinction is not quite as grim as some would make it out to be.

    For more, see >>

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