Evolution Isn’t Always A Slow Process

“Evolution is a tinkerer.” —Francois Jacob, “Evolution and Tinkering”

In A Nutshell

We tend to think of evolution as a slow process that takes hundreds of thousands of years. While it certainly can take many generations for a fish to wander out onto land or a single-celled organism to grow more complex, it can also happen through entire species in our lifetime. Recently, scientists have cataloged a host of changes in a few lizards that were relocated from one island to another, and other creatures, such as salamanders, are showing they can evolve to adapt to the pollution in their environment.

The Whole Bushel

By definition, it seems as though evolution is a process that should take an indeterminately long time. And it does take generations; evolution doesn’t happen in a single individual’s lifetime, as it requires a change in the genetic makeup of a creature. That change only happens between generations. We have plenty of evidence for evolution taking place over an extended amount of time, and we can trace new shapes and adaptations through the fossil record and look at the gradual change of species as they adapt to changing environments or a move to new ones. But evolution doesn’t always take forever, and we have several examples that illustrate just how fast it can happen.

In 1971, several pairs of Italian wall lizards were moved from one island off the coast of Croatia to another. When war broke out, the scientists that were in charge of the project couldn’t go back. The lizards have had four decades of unmonitored growth and development. Those original five pairs have spawned a population in the thousands (confirmed by DNA testing).

There had been a native lizard population, but those less aggressive lizards were gone. The immigrant lizards hadn’t just taken over: They had also developed extra muscles in their intestinal tract to allow them to successfully digest and survive on a vegetarian diet that they hadn’t been accustomed to previously. Their gut structure changed to process vegetarian material. The lizard’s bite had evolved to more easily bite and chew leaves, and that had also changed the structure and size of their heads.

These changes occurred in only about 30 generations of lizards.

Similarly, soil mites have been shown to undergo a rapid evolution, changing their genetic makeup in response to their environment. Scientists in the UK have looked at the development of soil mites in relation to their environment, and found that over a span of 20 generations, the mites’ genetics changed in such a way that it doubled their life span.

It’s also been found that salamanders that live in a toxic environment have adapted to survive the toxicity that’s absorbed into their bodies. A study by a Yale PhD student Steve Brady compared two groups of salamanders—one that lived in an untouched woodland, and one that lived in the toxic sludge that were roadside puddles. While fewer eggs were hatched in the more toxic environment, the life span of the surviving salamanders was much longer. Decades later, follow-up studies of a similar variety showed that animals such as fish and salamanders are indeed adapting to live in polluted waters and environments.

Even the Galapagos finches have been shown to be evolving in the time it takes to complete a scientific study. Researchers have documented changes in the birds’ beak shapes, over the course of just three decades. One theory about how evolution seems to happen so fast is based around a sort of latent gene, lying buried or dormant in a creature’s genes until it’s needed, but there is obviously no general consensus among scientists.

Our rapidly changing world and the damage we’re doing to the environment is forcing many species—like the salamanders, the minnows, the birds—to adapt or perish. While most of the species this phenomenon of rapid evolution has been documented in are small or invertebrates, it opens the door to more questions about evolution than answers.

Show Me The Proof

BBC News: Environmental change ‘triggers rapid evolution’
National Geographic: Lizards Rapidly Evolve After Introduction to Island
Emily Monosson: Toxic Evolution of Spotted Salamanders

  • Hillyard

    Interesting. It would be nice if some of the trolls on KN and LV could evolve into actual humans.

    • Lisa

      Would it be mean if we started naming names?

    • Lisa

      You are a troll

      • Hillyard

        Young lady I am not a troll, I am an Ogre, and damned proud of it!!

        • Lisa

          Again hillyard, that wasn’t me calling you a troll. Maybe a troll is po’d cause i made the joke about naming the trolls

          • Hillyard

            Got it. You got name jacked. Hopefully LV and KN will figure out how (if possible) to stop that.

          • Valkyrie

            Nope if you click on that persons’ profile it shows them making the comment to you, click on your name and it shows too

          • Valkyrie

            and now it doesn’t -_-

          • lisa39

            Isn’t that the way it always works? Or doesn’t work lol

          • Valkyrie

            For me .. yes lol by the way I hate your personal troll with an intensity ..

          • Lisa 39

            Aww that’s so sweet! I was so busy with damage control yesterday that that i’ve spent the day trying to catch up, sorry i didn’t reply sooner.

          • Valkyrie

            No worries it’s probably a 70 year old balding fat guy wacking off over the thought of men thinking he’s a female ..

          • Lisa 39

            Eww, thanks lol. He/she followed me around haranguing me but i’m a lady damn it & didn’t feed the troll! I did get called a troll by some guy tho but i think he’s a troll so whatever, as long as the good people know that i’m not. Btw, i love the kitten pic!

          • Lisa

            I think it’s a disqus thing so i’m trying there 1st. I’m just going to add 39 to my name. Have you scrolled down this conversation yet? She’s a very busy troll trying to sully my reputation.

          • Lisa

            You can’t be that stupid. My name is Lisa, that’s why I picked it. They shouldn’t allow people to chose names that have already been taken. Grow up and stop whining.

          • Lisa 39

            Btw, allow people to chose is incorrect, it should have been allow people to choose, chose is past tense. If you’re going to be a troll then please do so correctly. Where’s the grammar lady when we need her.

          • Lisa

            No, that was fine. Thanks for trying.

          • lisa39

            I’m not sure how i did it but i did! No confusion now unless it’s really a troll & makes the same change, if not she’s just a mean, miserable b word.

        • Lisa

          I forgot to mention, thanks for calling me a young lady and if i had jokingly called you a troll it’s nice to know you would have retorted with being an ogre.

  • Rijul Ballal

    Forget lizards, lets look at how quickly humans tend to devolve into the troll sub species when they come online…

  • So … evolution is official then?

    • Lisa

      Of course but that still doesn’t mean we evolved from monkeys

      • Or devolved from monkeys.

        • Lisa

          Hmm, tough choice, the whole place has gone to hell in a handbag

        • Lisa

          Hmm, tough choice, the whole place has gone to hell in a handbasket.

        • lbatfish

          I haven’t posted any Devo vids lately, so I guess this is as good a time as any:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibtEimxWDg4

          • 1983, they were so far ahead of us.
            But who could have predicted that so many young women would turn into gum chewing cell phone zombies WAY before 2050?

          • Lisa

            What third world country are you from?

          • Lisa

            This is the real lisa, some troll snagged my name for trolling so if my name responds in a mean or trollish manner it’s not me.

          • Lisa

            Yeah because Lisa is such an uncommon name. Do you live in a trailer park?

          • Lisa

            Troll

          • Lisa

            You can change that if you work hard at it.

          • Lisa

            A troll is trolling with my name

          • I know, the tone gave it away 😉

          • Lisa 39

            Good, thanks.

          • Lisa

            Idiot

          • Hillyard

            Mr. Devo needs to spread legs shoulder width apart, reach down between legs with both hands, grasp firmly and with a sharp tug, yank his head out of his ass.

            lbatfish, please post a better video next time.

          • Lisa

            A troll is trolling with my name, i would never call you an idiot or say anything mean

      • Dalek6450

        Not from monkeys exactly but from a common ancestor with monkeys. If you go back far enough, we have a common ancestor with every animal, plant, bacteria, etc. We just have a closer common ancestor with monkeys and other primates than we do for, say, a snake.

        • Lisa

          O dalek, there’s a reason i didn’t take the conversation in that direction, don’t worry, if you get attacked i’ll back you up.

      • Mark

        I hope you are joking! Otherwise you should read a bit about evolution before posting comments. We each evolved from common ancestors OK? Sigh!

        • Lisa 39

          I was joking 🙂

          • Mark

            I realised you probably were when I read your other posts, but it was too late!

          • Lisa 39

            No worries

          • Mark

            🙂

          • Lisa 39

            So how come your all the way back here on january 1st if you don’t mind me asking?

          • Mark

            Started reading from the top 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            Cool, i found lv in mid september, i read 2007-2011 then i discovered the comments lol, so now i’m reading 2012 slowly

    • Ghidoran

      Are you serious? Of course evolution is ‘official’. It’s one of the most important scientific theories of the last 2 centuries and, along with cell theory, forms the basis of biology. Modern medicine, modern agriculture, modern ecology, none of it would have been possible without an understanding of evolution. Chances are you’re alive right now thanks to healthcare and quality of life improvements that have resulted from an understanding of evolutionary theory. Evolution is about as universally accepted as gravity or the atomic theory.

      • Ofcourse I’m not serious. Still, sometimes, when reading internet forums, it does not seem there is anything out there that is excepted as fact by every single one of us. And I believe that’s a good thing.

        • Ghidoran

          Ignorance is not a good thing. There are plenty of people who reject scientific theories like evolution and prevent other people from learning about it. They’re not doing the world any favors.

          • Lisa 39

            I read a top ten list about museums & there’s a religious museum i think in p.a. that doesn’t believe anything not straight from the bible. No dinosaurs ever existed, no evolution ever occurred. It’s so bad that the local school district won’t allow field trips there. Now that’s close minded.

    • inconspicuous detective

      sure is. even the church accepts it. there are diehards out there, however.

    • Chaos

      What if I told you that evolution and creationisms can both exist simultaneously and symbiotically?

      Evolution does not need alot of explaining as most folks understand that or at least have an idea of what it is so lets look at religion who are the main proponents of creationism. For a long time religions primary produced product is faith but religion and faith are NOT mutually exclusive, faith being defined as something that cannot for certain be proven but is accepted due to a belief in ‘something’ not necessarily a higher power as such for instance I have faith in the fact that my plan over the next 5 years will put myself into a position in life for which I have been aiming. There is no proof that it will work, there is no evidence to suggest that it can or cannot but I have faith in myself, in my plan.

      So now that we have separated faith from religion, lets look at some parts of religion which I believe has been messed up, diluted or simply abused by those in power. The bible states that god is within man, not one man or a group of men but all men, now lets extend this. The same stuff that makes up our bodies, the animals, the earth makes up the entire universe around us, as far as we know every single thing in existence is made of the same stuff so therefor is god is within man then god must be in the animals, the earth and every single thing in the universe(remember god created us in his image so if a higher power created us, he created us from the same stuff that he and everything is made of, this means that the universe IS god and everything in it is god or at the least a part of god, not the bearded man in the sky kind but in the essence of everything kind.

      Now imagine for a moment your cruising through your life, you come across a problem that must be overcome and the solution(in simple terms) is that you identify the problem, you work out a solution and you get a result. So lets them put this in a grand scale. If we are all made up of the universe and a part of the universe/god is within all of us, are we not the physical manifestation of the universe/god trying to figure itself out just the same as you who tried to figure out the problem you faced in your own life. No 2 lives or experiences are the same and there for each experience and perspective brings solutions and potentially more questions for us to answer.

      Evolution is the evolution of the universe/god as well as our own or the evolution of the species that brought us to this point, perhaps mass extinction events and evolutionary dead ends are the points similar to which you may come across and problem or situation in life in which you can do no more to solve, you can learn no more from it, kinda like when your in a relationship and you begin fighting and the fighting keep going and might lead to a realization that you can do no more there, but none the less you have learned things and so you break up and move on. Mass exiction and evolutionary dead ends are exactly the same. so the plan is thrown out and started again or the ‘lessons learned” are kept like the survival of mammals once the dinosaurs time was over which eventually lead to our rise.

      I am not saying the universe is omnipotent per say but more like a grand scale version of you and I just trying to make its way and figure itself out and figure out how to best proceed. Its all about perspective, from the perspective of the bacteria in your belly button, you are their universe and they are just trying to make their way in ‘their’ world as it is perceived, so its not that far a stretch to consider that we are all pieces of the universe just trying to make our way, from our perspective it is everything but a belly button bacteria has no need for science or religion and in the grand scale of things we are the bacteria of the belly button of the universe.

      So putting all this together it is possible to consider that evolution is a tool, a purpose, a means to an end of creationism in which we all play our part in the evolution of an evolving creationist universe.

      • Lisa 39

        Well put, i’ve been saying for years that science &religion work together. Not as eloquently as you tho. I’m a christian, do i believe in the big bang theory? Yup, i just don’t think it was an accident, it says in the bible that god created the earth, i think that’s how he did it, loud, proud & with style!

      • It looks like we are on the same page with this. It’s very pleasant though to finally read that page. Thank you.

      • Mark

        “So now that we have separated faith from religion” – you haven’t – you have merely stated that not all faith is religious, but all religion is still faith

        “The bible states that god is within man” – that doesn’t make it true

        None of your arguments rely on anything but faith, you have provided zero evidence to support your hypothesis

        And…unfortunately (for you) your argument contains no requirement for a god. All of this works without any religion at all, so why complicate things with something you have no evidence for whatsoever?

  • Peter

    Of course we’re not from monkeys, we are lizards. In Croatia. Can’t you read? And in 30 more generations we’ll have a lizard tongue, like Miley Cyrus. Then we can find all the delicious Croation food. Wait, is there such a thing?

    • Lisa

      I believe that croatia would be the place to find croation food

    • Lisa

      Why did someone let the retard have a computer again? Someone take it away.

    • Lisa

      Peter, a troll is trolling with my name so please ignore any negative comments

  • Errkism

    The thought of a dormant evolution gene, the latent gene mentioned above, amazes me. Just imagine the evolutionary capabilities if evolution could be turned on like a light switch.

    • Mark

      I think you may have misunderstood evolution just a little. It is the process whereby random mutations that give an advantage in reproduction get established in the gene pool over generations and survive. There are indications that some environmental changes can cause evolutionary changes over a shorter period, but evolution goes on all the time, there is no switch and no latent gene for evolution – this just a wild hypothesis without evidence

      • Errkism

        Pretty sure that’s where the “imagine” part of my sentence comes in.

        • Mark

          Ah, curse this written communication, without hearing the tone of voice or seeing the facial expression it is all too easy to miss the sarcasm! Many apologies for my denseness!

          • Errkism

            Agreed. It’s very hard to read sarcasm. No worries.

  • ethan

    such bullshit. ooo, a birds beak changed shape over 50 yrs, that means man came from oysters!’ hahahaha

  • DdKruse

    Because of poaching an increasingly high percentage of elephants are being born without tusks.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/180301.stm
    http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/ecology/elephants-evolve-smaller-tusks-due-to-poaching/711

    • Mark

      And an even higher percentage die without tusks – was that insensitive?
      This is not really evolution at all, it is selective breeding. We kill the elephants with big tusks, so only elephants with small tusks get to reproduce. It is no different from breeding dogs or cats.

  • Blame the Victim

    It sure would be nice if Republicans could evolve more quickly into something resembling a human.