Saturday, May 12, 2007


Given that much of global warming is anthropogenic, and that we may view the products and waste of industrial activity as extensions of human technology, could we view the new raft of species appearing as a consequence of global warming as "artificial" species? Humans have sometimes been referred to as a virus on planet Earth, but could we view global warming as massive genetic engineering?
Already this year researchers have announced the discovery of a bunch of new species: 6 types of bats, 15 soft corals, thousands of mollusks and 20 sharks and rays, to name a few. If a report issued in 2006 by the Census of Marine Life—conducted by more than 2,000 scientists in 80 countries—is any indicator, we will see a bumper crop of new animals in the years ahead, too. These discoveries, from the Hortle's whipray to the Bali catshark, are partly the fruits of new technology like DNA bar coding, which allows scientists to use genetic differences to tell one species from another. But that isn't the only reason: Evolution actually speeds up in the tropics, research has found, and global warming is making it happen that much faster...

The advantage in this evolutionary race goes to warm-weather animals, who are taking territory and precious food sources from their cool-weather cousins. "Species that typically would be restricted to the tropics or subtropics are increasingly found north of where they were," says evolutionary biologist Stephen Palumbi of Stanford University, author of The Evolution Explosion. Swordfish traditionally seen in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean have been spotted off the coast of Norway; shallow-water squid that normally call California waters home have been found as far north as Alaska. As these and other species commandeer space and resources, they bring with them their arsenal of DNA, so that their descendants will be even better biologically suited for warmer conditions.
From The Smithsonian (via Abbas at 3 Quarks Daily). Photo by Antonio Baeza.


troutsky said...

What does this mean for us Sons of Norway? We are not known for our adaptability.

helmut said...

I believe it means that we gradually become gentle crab-like creatures clinging to the North Pole.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to know whether these are actually new species or they're just some we humans haven't seen or classified before. The ocean is a big place, hard to get around in, and so are the tropics.


helmut said...

It is difficult, and there's the recent discovery in Antarctica of perhaps hundreds of new (previously unknown)species. Plus, ecosystems and individual organisms don't just sit around, they evolve. But, the premise of these authors is that global warming is playing an evolutionary role as well to the extent that they are able to say that there are new species as a result.

I'm curious whether, by extension, we can say that these are anthropogenic species and are thus artifactual. Much of the environment is like this anyway.