Life finds a way: Animals are evolving due to, in spite of, and with the help of human influence – The Current – The Student-Run Newspaper of Nova…

Many people thinkthat evolution is somemagical phenomenon that takes hundreds, even thousands of years to occur.People think of dinosaurs turning into chickens,chimpanzees into people, wolves into chihuahuas and so on.However, what many people dont realize is that evolution happens every day all around us, just on a much smaller scale.

Omar TonsiEldakaris an associate professor at NSU in thedepartmentofbiology. He offeredthe example of the recent COVID-19 pandemic as an example of rapid evolution.

It can occur quite rapidly. You have a great example with COVID-19where you see these new strains popping up, because we have such a high variationin populations,Eldakarsaid.

Things like pesticide resistance in insects or antibacterial resistance in bacteria are further examples of how common and how quicklyevolutioncan occur.

Evolution occurs when an inheritable traitthat was previously less common becomes more common in a population, often because that trait is better suited to survive in the organisms environment.Having that variation in populations is important for evolution because without it, nothing would ever changefor the better or worse.

However, what people oftendonotconsider ishow drastically environments have changed since the rise of urbanization and human industrialization.Native wildlife is now forced to adapt to buildings popping up, tohuman waste and even harmful direct interactions such as hunting and poaching.

California condors are a critically endangered species, partially due to habitat loss but also due to poison ingestion via their prey. Condorsaremuch like vultures; they feed on carrion, which are dead carcasses of other animals. California condors become poisoned by the leadbullets left in their prey by hunters.The population has dwindled so much since the 1980s that there are less than 30 known individuals left alive.

However, just this yearscientists noted thefirst case of asexual reproduction through a process called parthenogenesis in California condors.While reviewing genetic data in the captive population, scientists noticed that afemale condor at the San DiegoZoo produced two male chicks, neither of which had any genetic contribution from any of the male condors in the conservation program.

The male chicks were the result of asexual reproduction, and although neither lived tobe fully mature, they lived much longer than other cases of parthenogenesis reported in bird species. Birds like domesticated chickens have reproduced via parthenogenesis before, but the chickusually died before hatching.

Somehow, this California condor had a variation that allowed her to reproduce in a way that had never been recorded before.A possible step towards rebuilding a population that had been eviscerated by human influence.

California condors are not the only animals making changes to survive human influence.According to an article published in the Journal of Hereditary, there has been a rise of tuskless female elephants in Mozambique which scientists believe to be linked to decades of poachingelephantsfor ivory.Elephant tusks are made from ivory, acompound worth thousandsof dollarsperpound to humans, while elephants use them forself-defenseand foraging.

They obviously havent evolved for nothing. Theyarentjust like, oh, we dont need these andletsget rid of them. They do use them for foraging,Eldakarexplained. It just simply might be atradeoffthat makes foraging a little more difficult, but at least theyre not being shot and killed.

However, is it enough to save the species from extinction?Despite these steps that may seem like a way to combat population decline,Eldakarstressed the importance of conservation efforts.

Its crucially important that life have the opportunity to evolve in response to their environment, especially when were the one hindering it. You will find these unique cases where there might be some variantin the population that has this advantage that allows it to adapt in response to human interference, but thats not going to be the case for a lot of these other endangered species,Eldakarsaid.

Again, the most important aspect of evolution ishavingvariationwithin a population. If the population is reduced to such a small group of individuals, its unlikely that sort of species-saving variation will occur.

Shrinking an effective population size is shrinking its genetic variation, essentially prohibiting that species from being able to evolve in response to its environment.Thats why conservation efforts are important, because theyre really about genetic variation,Eldakarexplained.

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