Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Miscellany on Evolution

Blue musselSome interesting and relevant tidbits from last week’s issue of Science:

Thank God for Turkey
According to a comprehensive review of survey results from the U.S. and over 30 other nations, Americans rank next to lowest, just ahead of Turkey, in acceptance of the theory of evolution. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of US adults accepting the idea of evolution declined from 45% to 40%, the percentage rejecting evolution fell from 48% to 39%, and the share of “unsure” grew accordingly. By contrast, almost 80% of adults in the UK accept evolutionary theory. Oddly, almost 80% of US adults agree with the idea of natural selection for animals and plants when the word “evolution” is not used in the description, but over 60% of those same surveyed adults reject evolution when applied to humans. Using ten independent variables available for all the nations in the study, the researchers concluded that evolution has become a far more politicized issue in the US than in any other nation. Also, Americans are tragically ignorant of biology, with little understanding of genetic overlap between species and of the basic idea of DNA. More here.

But Mussels are Believers
Apparently unaware of its human neighbors’ opinions, the blue mussel, native to the New England coast, has decided to evolve. A recent invader to US waters (see my prior post on invasive species), the Asian shore crab has made its way up the East Coast and developed a yen for the blue mussel along the way. But true to the Red Queen model of co-evolution, the mussels have developed thicker shells when cues in the water signal the crab’s arrival. Mussels from Maine, where the crab has yet to reach, do not thicken their shells when exposed to the crab. The mussels south of Maine, in other words, have in 15 years evolved the ability to sense the crab’s presence and load up on heavy armor when needed. Maybe they should have been included in the evolution opinion survey. More here.

So How Did Plants Get On Hawaii?
I pointed out in my invasive species post that all plants on Hawaii were at one time “invasive.” But how did they get there? Research on long-distance dispersal (LDD) of plants is yet another study in complexity theory. Under standard dispersal methods for most plants, a dispersal event of 400 kilometers might be expected to happen about once every 100 billion years. Obviously, they happen more frequently than that, because every so often something “breaks the rules.” Typhoons, tornadoes, vast smoke-billowing fires, and other unusual weather events are the most likely candidates for most LDDs. And although they are still quite rare, LDDs have disproportionately profound and lasting impacts on the local ecology—as in the case of Hawaii. From disaster came paradise. More here.

Disasters Galore!
If Dan’s series on disasters has you staying up late at night in worry, check out the US Geological Survey’s new Natural Hazards Gateway for all sorts of historical and real time information on earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, landslides, tsunamis, volcanoes, and wildfires. Sure to soothe you!

1 Comments:

Anonymous Kristi Bowman said...

For anyone else out there who is knee-deep in evolution-related work, or others who are just interested... here, too, are a few other sources for recent polls regarding Americans' opinions on evolution and related issues (with apologies for not being ale to get html tags to work):

- The July 6, 2005 Harris Poll: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=581
- The September 28, 2005 Pew Research Center commentary: http://people-press.org/commentary/display.php3?AnalysisID=118
- That Pew commentary is largely taken from a longer August 30, 2005 Pew survey: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=254

I don't know when these organizations expect to release the results of another poll on the same topic, but it would seem likely to be this fall at some point. Stay tuned!

8/23/2006 4:25 PM  

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