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Hard Science

“Unnatural Selection:” Study Reports Human Activity Causing Speciation and Rapid Evolution

Nature conservation remains just as urgent as ever.

Gone With The Old, In With The New

The Western Black Rhinoceros, Pyrenean Ibex, and Javan Tiger are just some of the animals that have gone extinct in the last 50 years due to human activities.

Surprisingly, it turns out, human activities are also causing rapid evolution and the emergence of new species. A new study from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen reports the causes of manmade speciation. The study also discusses why newly evolved species cannot simply replace extinct wild species.

Scientists say the evolution, and in some cases the emergence of entirely new species, can take place through various mechanisms. An article on Phys.org names “accidental introductions, domestication of animals and crops, unnatural selection due to hunting, or the emergence of novel ecosystems such as the urban environment” as a few examples.

Clear cut section of Amazonian rain forest. Photographer: Joel Sartore
Clear cut section of Amazonian rain forest. Credit: Joel Sartore

Replacing the Extinct?

Some may wonder whether human activities can also benefit while still depleting global biodiversity. However, the researchers stress that these evolved speciest cannot just replace extinct wild species. Nature conservation remains as urgent as ever. “The prospect of ‘artificially’ gaining novel species through human activities is unlikely to elicit the feeling that it can offset losses of ‘natural’ species. Indeed, many people might find the prospect of an artificially biodiverse world just as daunting as an artificially impoverished one” says lead author and Postdoc Joseph Bull.

The study highlights numerous examples of how human activities influence species’ evolution. In one example, the common house mosquito adapted to the environment of the London Underground and established a subterranean population. These underground insects are now known as the “London Underground Mosquito.” They can no longer interbreed with their above ground counterparts. Thus, effectively making them an entirely new species.

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