The continual revolution that is evolution...

 

Being a Shrewsbury lad born and bred, and a lover of animals, I would be lying if I said I wasn't totally in awe and inspired by the work of the great Charles Darwin! I often find myself pondering the processes of evolution and how it is truly a natural and wonderful thing.

Do you know? It would only take a few genetic changes to create a brand spanking new species of animal, even if the original animal was still exchanging genes with its own species! This is remarkable – I'll try and outline the science of evolution simply for those of you who want a little Biology lesson refresh:

What is a species?

Being a species is more than having common attributes. A species is a group of organisms that can breed and produce fertile offspring.

Hybrid Species

...is what happens when a male lion and a female tiger, for example, - a 'liger'.

This offspring - from two distinct species - can never become a new species as the young are sterile.

Mules (donkey crossed with horse) are also like ligers as they are unable to produce fertile young.

Speciation:

Speciation is the evolutionary process by which new species arise.

There is still a lot to learn about the process of speciation, such as how genomes change as a species splits in two.

Most of the genomes in a species will stay the same, with just a few changes that become unique to each adaption of the species.

How do species evolve?

Groups of organisms belonging to a species can adapt in different ways to ensure survival in an ever changing environment. They can also evolve new characteristics for attracting mates. The groups evolve in so many varied ways until eventually they become so different that they form an entirely separate species that can no longer breed together. This can be caused by seperation both physically and by time. 

Natural Selection

Natural selection is the process of inherited traits that make it easier for some species to evolve and thus change their genetic makeup. Only the 'Fittest' survive in an ever changing world - Charles Darwin called evolution 'transmutation' and described it as 'descent with modification'. It was Charles Darwin who first identified this process in his 1859 book The Origin of Species. Thought it best to include a fact there – for the love of Shrewsbury!

Natural selection is the most powerful and important cause of evolutional change.

  • Individuals in a species show a wide range of variation.
  • This variation, as we now understand it, is because of differences in genes.
  • Furthermore, individuals with characteristics most suited to the environment are more likely to survive and reproduce.
  • The genes that allowed the individuals to be successful are passed to the offspring in the next generation and make for a strong species: it's survival of the fittest, but that's a whole other story.

So, the more 'exotic' and rare the animal I find, the more I ponder evolution and the works of Charles Darwin. When I first encounter a new animal, I can't help but think of the processes they have gone through to be here. After all, those species that poorly adapt to their environment are less likely to survive and reproduce. This means that their genes are less likely to be passed to the next generation and they will one day become extinct. It's therefore important to me that we all work to care for the animals, and preserve their environments they are not second class citizens but fellow inhabitants of the world we call our Salopian home.Many are fundamentally important to the survival of the planet and all have been here longer than us.