from the world's big
Animals are adapting all the time these days to stay out of our way.
- Evolution is something that happens over time, but animals (humans included) are always mutating and adapting.
- Thanks to human presence and interference, animals are experiencing what has been referred to as "human-guided evolution."
- More animals are becoming night owls. Pollution determines which moths dominate the tree trunks of the U.K. Are these short-term changes, or is humanity doing lasting damage?
We often think of evolution as taking place over extended periods of time as mutations prove themselves advantageous, or not. Mutations, though, are not rare things: They happen all the time. Scientists estimate that there were 37 trillion of them in your own body just over the last 24 hours. (It's amazing more things don't go wrong, right?) The characteristics we see in ourselves and other organisms are merely the latest winners in a wild and woolly mutation free-for-all competition, in which nature, or random chance, tries out many wonderful, bizarre, and ridiculous traits as things settle out over the long term.
Adaptations in response to changing environmental factors occur all the time, too: An attribute that may have been meaningless before may suddenly become very helpful. Here in the Anthropocene, animals are adapting to all sort of habitat changes we've imposed on them. While not yet long-term changes, necessarily, these characteristics suggest we may be having a considerable impact on the ongoing process of evolution in the world's organisms.
Image source: Marek R. Swadzba/Shutterstock
Before the Industrial Revolution got up and running in the U.K., light-colored peppered moths, Biston betularia morpha typica, were a common sight. However, by about 1864, they'd been essentially replaced by a darker peppered-moth cousin, Biston betularia morpha carbonaria. Why?
Pollutants — mostly coal soot —covered the British countryside, darkening its trees. Worse, sulfur dioxide emissions wiped out many of the trees' lichen and moss coverings. Against these darkened backdrops, light-colored peppered moths became far too easy to spot by predators. Better suited were the darker peppered moths, which soon came to dominate the habitat — by 1895, some 95 percent of peppered moths spotted were the darker variety.
Fortunately, the Industrial Revolution days passed, with dirty factories over time being replaced by cleaner alternatives, and today, the light-colored peppered moths are back on top.
The story is a pretty fast-paced and dramatic example of how extreme our impact can be, and also — and there's a hopeful feeling to this — how short-lived it can be if we fix what we've broken.
Urban vs. rural red fox skull measurements
Image source: K.J. Parsons, et al
Researchers published in June a really interesting study regarding a surprising way in which foxes are adapting to life in human-dominated urban environments.
An examination of 111 red fox skulls from London, UK, revealed "urban individuals tending to have shorter and wider muzzles relative to rural individuals." Essentially, the more urban a fox's environment is, the shorter its snout was likely to be. The change may be considered an example of Darwin's "domestication syndrome," as Big Think previously reported.
The study suggests it's all about the biomechanics benefits imparted by such a change:
"Firstly, a shorter snout, as found in urban foxes, should confer a higher mechanical advantage but with reduced closing speed of the jaw. This may be advantageous in an urban habitat where resources are more likely to be accessed as stationary patches of discarded human foods. Furthermore, in some cases, these foods may require a greater force to access them, explaining the expanded sagittal crest in skulls of urban foxes."
If these traits make an individual fox better suited to its city life, it's that much more likely to survive and reproduce than a longer-snouted competitor.
Nighttime on human Earth
Image source: Viktor Grishchenko/Shutterstock
Habitat loss is the single most destructive thing we're doing to animals. It can lead to utter displacement and death, and it can also change the way animals go about doing the things they need to do to survive.
In many cases, animals dealing with fresh human encroachment bend before they break, and some are trying to carry on around us, so to speak. A 2018 study in the journal Science finds, for example, that animals are becoming more nocturnal to get out of the bipeds' way.
The authors of the study analyzed data from 76 other reports to learn how 62 species on six continents were trying to adapt to our intrusive presence. The data was sourced from all sorts of devices such as cameras to GPS trackers, and ran the gamut from 'possums to pachyderms.
What the researchers found was that animals known to split their activities between day and night were overwhelmingly becoming busier after dark. There was a 68 percent increase in nighttime activity among such animals.
If this habitat pressure continues, will we start to see individuals with, for example, better night vision, come to dominate as competitors for scarce resources? It'll be interesting to see.
When people say, "Such and such animal has this trait because it allows them to…" what they're really saying is that "Of all the crazy mutations that nature tried out, individuals with this mutation fared better than others did." Whether it's effective camouflage, the ditching of a trunk, or becoming a night owl — except for owls who already… never mind — temporary adaptations become fixed evolutionary traits when the conditions in which they are beneficial remain in place long enough. In the case of the pressure we're continually imposing on other life forms, it bears saying that only the ones lucky enough to survive humankind's challenging influence in the first place will get that chance to change.
Solar geoengineering ideas could weaken storms in both hemispheres, scientists find.
Sweden tops the ranking for the third year in a row.
What does COVID-19 mean for the energy transition? While lockdowns have caused a temporary fall in CO2 emissions, the pandemic risks derailing recent progress in addressing the world's energy challenges.
WEF Fostering Effective Energy Transition 2020 edition<h3>The 10 countries most prepared for the energy transition</h3><p>Sweden tops the overall ETI ranking for the third consecutive year as the country most ready to transition to clean energy, followed by Switzerland and Finland. There has been little change in the top 10 since the last report, which demonstrates the energy stability of these developed nations, although the gap with the lowest-ranked countries is closing.</p><p>Top-ranked countries share a reduced reliance on imported energy, lower energy subsidies and a strong political commitment to transforming their energy sector to meet climate targets.</p><p>The UK and France are the only two G20 economies in the top 10 however, which is otherwise made up of smaller nations.</p><p>Powerful shocks Outside the top 10, progress has been modest in Germany. Ranked 20th, the country has committed to phasing out coal-fired power plants and moving industrial output to cleaner fuels such as hydrogen, but making energy services affordable remains a struggle.</p>
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images<h3>China currently has the world's largest solar PV capacity</h3><p>China, ranked 78th, has made strong advances in controlling CO2 emissions by switching to electric vehicles and investing heavily in solar and wind energy - it currently has the world's largest solar PV and onshore wind capacity. Alongside China, countries including Argentina, India and Italy have shown consistent strong improvements every year. Gains over time have also been recorded by Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Kenya and Oman, among others.</p><p>But high energy-consuming countries including the US, Canada and Brazil show little, if any, progress towards an energy transition.</p><p>In the US (ranked 32nd), moves to establish a more sustainable energy sector have been hampered by policy decisions. Neighbouring Canada grapples with the conflicting demands of a growing economy and the need to decarbonize the energy sector.</p><p>The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a reminder of the impact of external shocks on the global economy. As climate change increases the likelihood of weather extremes such as floods, droughts and violent storms, the need for more sustainable energy practices is intensified.</p><p>Policy-makers need to develop a robust framework for energy transition at local, national and international levels, capable of guarding against such shocks.</p><p>"The coronavirus pandemic offers an opportunity to consider unorthodox intervention in the energy markets, and global collaboration to support a recovery that accelerates the energy transition once the acute crisis subsides," says Roberto Bocca, Head of Energy & Materials at the World Economic Forum.</p><p>"This giant reset grants us the option to launch aggressive, forward-thinking and long-term strategies leading to a diversified, secure and reliable energy system that will ultimately support the future growth of the world economy in a sustainable and equitable way."</p><p>Reprinted with permission of the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>. Read the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/energy-transition-index-2020-eti-clean-sustainable-power/" target="_blank">original article</a>.</p>
Transparency no doubt keeps organizations more accountable, but public companies need to reconnect with their true owners.
- ESG in investing stands for environmental, social and governance. It is a set of criteria investors can use to understand the values and the future of an organization.
- Companies pour resources into disclosing their ESG because, as the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Or so has been the thought for many years.
- While ESG is undoubtedly good, says John Fullerton, mere transparency is not going to solve the world's sustainability issues. For that, public companies need to act more like private companies and be responsible to their owners.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods find a greater foothold in the market as demand for plant-based meats rises.
Where's the beef?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI2NDEzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzA3MTI3Nn0.4iJJr5OUv0Hx-WC1rxPzoSk4zCMyMlGGBAK1VjlNzMM/img.jpg?width=980" id="a36a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6641198555a5cfb434656e86aeae3248" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Smithfield Foods pork processing plant, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was closed indefinitely after its workers caught and spread the coronavirus.
The plant-based industry takes root<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI2NDE0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5ODEwNjEzOH0.nMlZXJAI1qRCf_m2pEOYLlWEbnIW9Ed6Wv75DvK1ESk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C895&height=700" id="a6960" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="19055729ecdfb6cd5f0b50330e629043" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Beyond Meat's plant-based patties on store shelves at Costco.