Evolution in Overdrive

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I think evolutionists and geneticists are missing something. Ever since Mendel started growing peas to prove that traits are inherited, and Darwin came up with the idea that environment influenced survival,  educated people have seemed to agree that evolution is a slow, tedious, and interminable process that takes generations and perhaps thousands of years to manifest great change.
 
Perhaps we should consider an alternative concept. That idea being that some fairly sudden and striking change can happen over relatively short times, and within a single generation.
 
I’ve recently been intrigued by the reported changes in coloration when foxes are selected for less aggression. Docility seems to be linked to varied appearance. Why this hasn’t occurred before is puzzling, as almost all wild animals are fairly uniform in coloration, while domesticated animals can vary greatly.
 
There are exceptions, but they are really very few and far between. Albinism comes to mind, but that’s not really what I mean. Let’s take Africa, for instance. If you were to try to find a particular individual in a herd of zebra, based on a difference in color, how would you do it? What about lions? Elephants, rhino, giraffe, gnu, gemsbok, cheetah, dik-dik, crocodile… you get my drift, right? Sure, there are some variations, but most are in being lighter or darker. Male lions’ manes vary in color, but that’s the largest example of variation in a really homogeneous population otherwise. Even African wild dogs sport the same colors, and they are the only species I can think of on the African continent that varies wildly in pattern.
 
Domestic animals, on the other hand can be much more varied. Cattle, horses, cats, dogs, chickens, guinea pigs, and even fish, once domesticated, can change shape and size and vary in color in ways never seen in nature.
 
But what does that lack of variety in coloration have to do with sudden, gross changes in a species?
 
Well, going back to those foxes, they still look like a fox… other than being black and white, occasionally spotted, and acting docile and doglike.
 
This has to be said, too, that dogs represent the species that has proven most adaptable to human controlled selection.
 
How many generations of dogs are required to go from a gray wolf to a Great Dane, or a chihuahua? Certainly several…
 
But are there species that exhibit faster changes? If you wanted to reverse the process in a dog, breeding backwards from a chihuahua to create a wolf I would guess you might not ever be successful. Perhaps starting with a husky or malamute might get you there, but I suspect many dog breeds never would.
 
There has been recent effort in Europe to reverse engineer cattle to create the presently extinct aurochs.  Some of the efforts look fairly promising, as the animals become much more uniform in color and pattern.
 
But again, what makes the idea of sudden change in morphology credible? The examples I’ve given are all contingent on several generations. Wild horses have retained their present form and variety of colors for over a century, never reverting to an ancient pattern or color scheme, have they?
 
Well, yes they have. Within the last few decades, a new and fairly consistent coloration has appeared in wild bands in Oregon. The horses seem to be reverting to a consistent dun color, lighter or darker, with stripes on their legs and a dark stripe down their back.
 
But here again, even though the change appeared suddenly, how can we claim that changes occurred quickly with horses that have lived wild for multiple generations? Well, I think we can claim it, but proving it is something else.
 
I believe there is a species that proves the point, though, because it reverts to a wild state, and more importantly a wild type, changing physically as well as in color and color pattern within very few generations.
 
Have you heard about the wild hog explosion in the southern states? Domesticated pigs devolve from their cultivated genetics within very few generations once returned to the wild.
 
Just as in most domesticated animals, color patterns have been developed to distinguish one breed of pig from another. Durocs are solid red, Yorkshires and Landrace are white, and Hampshires are black with a distinctive white band circling their chests. Universally, the domesticated breeds have thick bodies and large hams and relatively little hair.
 
When a domesticated pig produces a litter in the wild, though, they change. The wild hogs so recently creating havoc in the southern states are descended from domestic breeds but resemble them very little.
 
Let me state this clearly… when a pig of any domestic breed is bred with another pig of a recognized domestic breed in a domesticated environment, the result will be a domesticated and uniformly recognized domestic swine. But when a pig goes feral, becoming wild, the offspring will change noticeably with each generation, becoming what we would recognize as a completely undomesticated animal within as few as three generations.
 
Just for clarity, let me say it another way by way of example. If you were to take a group of domestic pigs and breed them in a farm situation for several generations, you would end up with domesticated pigs in the end. But if you were to take the very same pigs and released them into the wild to fend for themselves, the result after as few as three generations could look like a feral hog that had never come from domesticated stock.
 
The changes are several. The feral animal becomes less muscular and the body more narrow. The legs lengthen, and the hair becomes more abundant and more course. The face gets longer, and the color is most likely to end up being black. So, I’m not just talking about changes in color but also changes in musculature and significant changes in the bone structure. Changes that would take far longer to reengineer back to a domesticated state under human selection than nature does in creating the feral animal. 
 
I would like to suggest an experiment. In any recent occasion of a pig going feral, they are likely to be breeding with hogs already several generations wild. I would really like to know what would happen if a single breed was released into a contained area without any breeding opportunities with already feral hogs. It would be interesting to document the changes over time with a single breed. Perhaps white pigs would produce white wild offspring if they were denied the opportunity to cross breed. But I suspect that in the end the results would be the same.
 
While I am using the de-evolution of pigs as an example of gross changes occurring quickly, I am also suggesting that gross changes can occur in the natural world, with naturally evolved species, just as quickly. I don’t believe we humans have considered this adequately, mostly because we tend to believe what is accepted unless something is shoved in our faces.
 
What kind of gross change can occur if an allele suddenly denies one protein trigger to accept a different one? And what would trigger that change?
 
We certainly haven’t experienced a sudden radical change in a large and recognizable species in the hundred and fifty years since Charles Darwin published his illuminating book. But have we been looking?
 
I know there are areas of the earth that have been combed over for the animals that live there… and yet occasionally something new is found. Often, we assume the new find is something missed or something that has moved in from somewhere else. But how would we know if a new species is really an “old” species overlooked or a truly “new” species?
 
Maybe the Hogs are giving us a clue, and where did those new stripe-legged horses really come from?
 
I know that I would like to think animals are finding ways to adapt to a suddenly changing world. I can’t wait until we can have an example that proves it.
 

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1 thought on “Evolution in Overdrive

  1. How about the evolution of intelligence? Can you breed humans to be smarter? It seems there is a difference in race.

    Lisa

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