Stunning finding, eh?

Darwin comes to town: how cities are creating new species
From the nut-cracking crows of Sendai to ‘Turdus urbanicus’ (the new urban blackbird), animals are changing their behaviour and evolution in cities – and in dramatic and surprising ways

The essence of the theory being that random mutations are sorted for fitness to survive by the environment.

So, change the environment and different genetic mutations thrive.

Stunner, eh?

37 thoughts on “Stunning finding, eh?”

  1. Meanwhile, guardianistas would have a fit of the vapours if it was suggested that human evolution was continuing.

  2. Yes,,, but the default tendency is to think natural evolution takes hundreds of thousands of years but i think the point of the article was that noticeable changes can be really quite quick.

  3. Off topic, but really?

    BBC article on house prices.

    Need to find a ‘real life’ example. So, of course, a typical couple is found. Interracial lesbian couple.

    FFS.

  4. Behavioural changes can happen very quickly. How far back would you have to go before you wouldn’t be able to give The Guardian away, let alone sell it?

  5. @RlJ
    I can remember having to order the Manchester Guardian specially from the news vendor at Pitsea railway station back in the day: he didn’t normally stock it. Mind you it was quite a decent middle of the road paper in those days.

  6. Need to find a ‘real life’ example. So, of course, a typical couple is found. Interracial lesbian couple.

    When you work for an organisation like the BBC, and you look around you in the office, this IS a typical couple.

  7. Mr Womby
    Sorry, I should have been clearer. I meant were you to take a copy of today’s Guardian back in a time machine.

  8. “When you work for an organisation like the BBC, and you look around you in the office, this IS a typical couple.”

    Girl I know in London was a continuity announcer. The voice you hear between BBC programs, telling you what’s to come. Both her producer & scriptwriter (Yes really. And a sound engineer) were gay. She was merely but enthusiastically bi.

  9. Journalism: “a profession whose business it is to explain to others what it personally does not understand”. – Harmsworth

    I presume Schilthuizen is not a biologist. Variability within species easily accounts for the differences. Turdus urbanicus is ignorant. Silly.

    Collies and dalmatians are the same species.

  10. Are they claiming that a new species of blackbird has evolved? Rather than just a bunch of birds learning a new skill?

  11. Quite right Gamecock. I’ve lost count of the times that variation in species has been presented as evidence of evolution.

  12. @ Gamecock
    Agree in most cases – e.g. urban foxes are still foxes – but the London Pigeon is apparently a different species from the Wood Pigeon

  13. There is just a small problem with the Grauniad’s star piece of analysis – the Blackbird mentioned in Shakespeare is *not* Migratory so the existence of non-migratory Blackbirds, descended from birds transported from the UK to the USA, in whatever benighted place Mr Schilthiuzen lives is *not* evolution.
    Living in England I was initially baffled by the claim that Blackbirds are migratory, so I had to look it up and it seems that Russian and some Scandinavian Blackbirds are migratory because it gets too cold in winter – *but* the US Blackbirds are, allegedly, descended from English ones. Facts and the Grauniad are like West and East.

  14. If organisms cannot interbreed, then they are different species. If they can interbreed, they’re on a continuumm from different species but not quite far apart enough yet, to same species. If these “new” crows can interbreed with “old” crows they are almost certainly not a different species.

    The canonical defintiion is species=interbreedable, but many people don’t want to admit that lions and tigers are consequently the same species.

  15. john77

    The London Pigeon IS a different species from the Wood Pigeon: it’s a dove, a Rock Dove(Feral), to be precise.

  16. It would be nice if one of the molecules of evolutionary theory, the species, had an unambiguous, universally accepted definition. But it doesn’t.

  17. jgh

    As Dearieme alludes to, if you want to see a bloodbath, stick a bunch of biologists in a room and get them to provide a definition of ‘species’.

  18. The original definition of separate species was based upon their not being able to interbreed (at least, to produce fertile offspring). But we now know of species that can interbreed, but don’t in nature, either because their geographic ranges don’t overlap (like lions and tigers) or simply because individuals preferentially select mates from their own ‘species’.

  19. “Quite right Gamecock. I’ve lost count of the times that variation in species has been presented as evidence of evolution.”

    It may be evidence of evolution. It’s not evidence of speciation.

    When humans first moved to northern climates with less sun, they *evolved* pale skin (it enhanced survival/reproduction). But they did *not* become a separate species.

    Speciation is what happens when interbreeding between groups within a species is prevented, so that they evolve separately, eventually drifting apart to the extent they could no longer interbreed even if the opportunity arose.

    But it’s true that evolution can be fast. The critical step is ‘natural selection’, meaning that if nature kills off all the organisms with a particular characteristic, that characteristic disappears from the species. That can obviously happen overnight. The only organisms left are the ones with characteristics that are best suited to survive.

    The best analogy I know of is topiary. A bush grows randomly in all directions. But if you snip off any twig that crosses outside a particular boundary shape, the bush ends up in that shape. Evolution explains why the bushes are shaped so precisely to survive their hostile environment. Speciation explains why there is more than one bush (i.e. that there was originally one bush, but the bit in the middle got trimmed).

    “The canonical defintiion is species=interbreedable”

    … with fertile offspring. (Although there’s a blurred boundary even then, when the offspring have severely reduced but non-zero fertility.)

    The definition doesn’t work for “ring species“, either.

    Biology is *full* of blurred lines… 🙂

  20. The London Pigeon IS a different species from the Wood Pigeon: it’s a dove, a Rock Dove(Feral), to be precise.

    Or even more precise, a noisy pain in the arse.

  21. An example of a non-transitive property in biology. A can breed with B, B can breed with C, does not automatically result in A being able to breed with C.

  22. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Ligers and tigons are not very reproductively fit. They’re not universally sterile, but their offspring are prone to be a bit weedy. So the two lineages are on their way to full speciation, pretty much as expected. If reproductive isolation is maintained and we haven’t killed them all then in a short while, geologically speaking, lions and tigers likely will be different species.

    The ur-example of rapid speciation in response to environmental changes is Biston betularia, except that’s not what happened (it’s a great example of population genetics though).

  23. BiCR, correct on isolation. Speciation depends on isolation from other individuals who could homogenize the gene pool.

  24. @John 77, July 23, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    Wood pigeons and urban pigeons [rock dove] are two different species

    Wood pigeons are larger than a crow and live in pairs – generally for life.

    .
    Blackbirds in Scotland don’t migrate in winter.

    Nut crows are not a species, corvids are lever and regularly discover ways to eat local resources. Just like seagulls dropping mussels onto rocks to break shell.

  25. “When humans first moved to northern climates with less sun, they *evolved* pale skin (it enhanced survival/reproduction). But they did *not* become a separate species.”

    Evidence? What is your definition of a separate species?

    “Speciation is what happens when interbreeding between groups within a species is prevented, so that they evolve separately, eventually drifting apart to the extent they could no longer interbreed even if the opportunity arose.”

    You mean such as sub-saharans and antipodean abos, who were isolated for thousands of years? Or those ‘mere English’ who were essentially a genetically isolated population for a thousand years? (Please, no nation-of-immigrants craporola! Jews and Hugenots barely count.)

    “But it’s true that evolution can be fast.”

    The English evolved, over a thousand years, into a peaceable, high trust, low violence, and a constitutionally pragmatic nation. [Cf most of the rest of the world — or France and Germany.] That high-water mark of civilisation is diminishing and will die if we don’t stop importing savages and don’t start sending them back from whence they originated.

  26. “Evidence? What is your definition of a separate species?”

    Umm? I already gave that? Unable to interbreed and produce fertile offspring.

    And white people are obviously the same species as black people because we can interbreed with fertile offspring. There are only about half a dozen to a dozen genes controlling skin colour – genetically that’s trivial.

    “You mean such as sub-saharans and antipodean abos, who were isolated for thousands of years?”

    Sub-Saharans are not genetically isolated. Australasian ‘aborigines’ have been isolated for a lot longer (probably, although if people can do the trip once they can do it multiple times), but that’s still not long enough for genetic drift to make them different species.

    “The English evolved, over a thousand years, into a peaceable, high trust, low violence, and a constitutionally pragmatic nation.”

    There is essentially no genetic difference between us and our stone-age ancestors. Our brains are built to the same design.

    However, there is another sort of inheritance, and another sort of evolution that can occur much more rapidly (i.e. within an individual’s lifetime rather than between generations). We inherit much of our culture from our parents and peers – we learn the language, technology, work ethic, legal systems, religions, and moral systems from the community we are raised in. And these too mutate, and are selected based on how successfully they enable the cultural knowledge to reproduce/spread.

    The English have led in the development of some of the most recent changes that led to the industrial age, but it’s at the end of a long chain of cultural innovation leading back through the Ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Romans, Jews, Greeks, Indians, Persians, Chinese, and many more.

    The English are definitely *not* non-violent. We’ve been involved in more wars, and conquered more of the globe, than virtually any other nation.

    “That high-water mark of civilisation is diminishing and will die if we don’t stop importing savages and don’t start sending them back from whence they originated.”

    On the contrary. The feature that makes cultures successful is that they spread more rapidly and successfully than the competitors. Western culture is more powerful and attractive, so when we make social contact with other cultures, they change to follow our ways far more rapidly than we change to follow theirs. When the British Empire spread across India, for example, we may have adopted a few innovations like curry, but they got the English language, trains, cities, cars, a civil service bureaucracy, and a large slice of English law and trading practice. They’re booming economically, because they copied from us.

    Evolution depends on violent conflict and competition to produce the best designs. Lions are so fast and strong, and Gazelles are so fast and graceful, because they are in constant contact, and lions that aren’t fast don’t eat, while gazelles that are not fast get eaten. Gazelles are the superbly designed sprinters they are only because of the predators. They adapt, change, and develop more rapidly. By contrast, isolation from predators results in the dodo. When birds are left on remote and isolated islands with no predators for millions of years, they get fat, slow, incautious, and forget how to fly. Without predators, they get soft.

    Cultures work the same way. Cultures that come into contact with lots of others, adapting the best features and demonstrating the superiority of their own accumulated talents collected from a wider pool, evolve to be the fastest, strongest, most aggressive, and most effective. Cultures that isolate themselves from competition become fat and slow; decadent. And the moment that barrier breaks, and a cat gets on to the island with all these fat, stupid birds waddling about in the open, the birds get wiped out.

    If you stop fighting culture wars, you forget how to fight. If you don’t make contact with a wider diversity of cultures and learn from them, and if you don’t give people the freedom to experiment and figure out what works best, if you don’t keep up with the arms race, if you lock yourself into stone age technology and culture because it’s “traditional”, you’ll fall behind and lose.

    Grow or die. You can’t stand still.

  27. “Unable to interbreed and produce fertile offspring.”

    Corvus cornix and corvus corone are separate species, but can interbreed and produce fertile hybrids. Like Neanderthals and Sapiens, or blacks and whites…

    “Sub-Saharans are not genetically isolated.”

    They had very limited genetic interaction for millenia.

    “There is essentially no genetic difference between us and our stone-age ancestors.”

    Any unbiased observer can see major differences between the races that transcend culture (eg the single parent afro family found across Africa, Brazil, the US, the West Midlands and South London).

    Therefore, either there are genetic differences that cannot yet be measured or the evidence of differences is being ignored or even suppressed (eg the greater prevalence in black populations of genetic mutations that predispose to extreme violence).

    As for your account of cultural evolution, it is risibly superficial. History shows that civilised people who allow barbarians within their gates are doomed. Diversity is a weakness, not a strength.

  28. My understanding is that the ability to successfully reproduce is crucially dependent on gene to chromosome mapping. As long as this mapping is preserved, creatures can become quite different and still have a good chance of fertile offspring. Once this mapping changes, it doesn’t matter how similar the creatures are they can no longer interbreed.

  29. “Corvus cornix and corvus corone are separate species, but can interbreed and produce fertile hybrids.”

    As we’ve repeatedly said on here, if you *can’t* interbreed, you are different species, but if you *can* interbreed you are either the same species *or* difference but closely-related species. It it not a pure binary opposite. Your assertion that cornix and corone are seperate species is not held up by your supplied evidence that they can interbreed. Your supplied evidence shows that they could be the same species *or* they could be different species that can interbreed.

  30. Bloke in North Dorset

    “On the contrary. The feature that makes cultures successful is that they spread more rapidly and successfully than the competitors. “

    I depends what you count as a successful culture. For me it’s high trust, which leads to a more peaceful existence. Whilst it’s generally true that cities are lower trust cultures than the countryside, it’s becoming more obvious that importanting low trust cultures is lowering our own trust levels in cities and no growing their levels of trust, cf election fraud as well as crime.

    I’ll also note that cities can be high trust as Japan has demonstrated.

  31. jgh

    Ornithological handbooks state that C. cornix and C. corone are separate species, which is my evidence that they are separate species. Yet they can and do interbreed successfully where their ranges overlap; so successful interbreeding is not conclusive evidence that animals are the same species.

    Biology is riddled with conceptual confusion. See:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species_problem

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