Humans artificially drive evolution of new species

June 28, 2016
The London Underground Mosquito (Culex pipiens molestus) has been found in underground systems around the world. It is believed to have evolved from the common house mosquito through a subterranean population. Credit: Walkabout12 via Wikimedia Commons

Species across the world are rapidly going extinct due to human activities, but humans are also causing rapid evolution and the emergence of new species. A new study published today summarises the causes of manmade speciation, and discusses why newly evolved species cannot simply replace extinct wild species. The study was led by the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen.

A growing number of examples show that humans not only contribute to the extinction of but also drive , and in some cases the emergence of entirely new species. This can take place through mechanisms such as accidental introductions, domestication of animals and crops, unnatural selection due to hunting, or the emergence of novel ecosystems such as the urban environment.

Although tempting to conclude that human activities thus benefit as well as deplete global biodiversity, the authors stress that extinct wild species cannot simply be replaced with newly evolved ones, and that nature conservation remains just as urgent.

"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 from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen.

The study which was carried out in collaboration with the University of Queensland was published today in Proceedings of Royal Society B. It highlights numerous examples of how human activities influence species' evolution. For instance: as the common house mosquito adapted to the environment of the underground railway system in London, it established a subterranean population. Now named the 'London Underground mosquito', it can no longer interbreed with its above ground counterpart and is effectively thought to be a new species.

Recent genetic data for the damselfly Megaloprepus caerulatus in Central America suggests that forest fragmentation has led it to diverge into more than one species. Credit: Katja Schultz via Flickr

"We also see examples of domestication resulting in new species. According to a recent study, at least six of the world's 40 most important agricultural crops are considered entirely new" explains Joseph Bull.

Furthermore, unnatural selection due to hunting can lead to new traits emerging in animals, which can eventually lead to new species, and deliberate or accidental relocation of species can lead to hybridization with other species. Due to the latter, more new plant species in Europe have appeared than are documented to have gone extinct over the last three centuries.

Although it is not possible to quantify exactly how many speciation events have been caused through human activities, the impact is potentially considerable, the study states.

"In this context, 'number of species' becomes a deeply unsatisfactory measure of conservation trends, because it does not reflect many important aspects of biodiversity. Achieving a neutral net outcome for species numbers cannot be considered acceptable if weighing wild fauna against relatively homogenous domesticated species. However, considering speciation alongside extinction may well prove important in developing a better understanding of our impact upon global biodiversity. We call for a discussion about what we, as a society, actually want to conserve about nature" says Associate Professor Martine Maron from the University of Queensland.

Researchers do agree that current extinction rates may soon lead to a 6th period of mass extinction. Since the last Ice Age, 11.500 years ago, it is estimated that 255 mammals and 523 bird species has gone extinct, often due to . In the same period, humans have relocated almost 900 known species and domesticated more than 470 animals and close to 270 plant species.

Explore further: What can extinct species do to help conservation?

More information: How humans drive speciation as well as extinction, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2016.0600

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julianpenrod
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 29, 2016
Eminent misrepresentation. Among other things, this isn't a new species, but a subspecies of Culex pipiens. The "interbreeding" that is claimed cannot occur, the defining quality of speciation, comes from the fact that the Underground Mosquitoes do not prefer the swarming form of mating of the above ground variety, and they use water rather than blood to incubate their eggs. But there is no indication that the genetic material of one cannot produce fertile mosquitoes born from a female of the other type.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Jun 29, 2016
Species across the world are rapidly going extinct due to human activities...

First lie, nothing else to see here.
aksdad
1 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2016
considering speciation alongside extinction may well prove important in developing a better understanding of our impact upon global biodiversity. We call for a discussion about what we, as a society, actually want to conserve about nature

Yep. Species go extinct all the time and humans have nothing to do with it. And new ones emerge as organisms adapt. Natural selection at work. Thank you, Darwin.

It is indeed important to thoughtfully consider what we want to conserve. Preventing a species from going extinct simply because it exists makes no sense. But carefully considering its value to an ecosystem and to humans has merit.

Researchers do agree that current extinction rates may soon lead to a 6th period of mass extinction

Actually, it's alarmists that "agree that current extinction rates blah, blah, blah." There is no scientific evidence that extinction rates are any higher than in past centuries; only anecdotes promoted by alarmists.
Plenum222
5 / 5 (2) Jun 30, 2016
There's no "zero stars" rating option to give antigoracle and aksdad, and I won't provide even a 1-star rating.
leetennant
5 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2016
I recommend the ignore button
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2016
ep. Species go extinct all the time and humans have nothing to do with it.

But currently ALSO a lot of species are going extinct because humans are doing the things they do.

A bit of logic 101 for you:
Just because X causes Y does not mean that Z does not also cause Y.

Apart from the basic failure to understand logic: you also have to look at the magnitude/speed at which stuff goes extinct due to normal rates and due to human influences.

It is indeed important to thoughtfully consider what we want to conserve. Preventing a species from going extinct simply because it exists makes no sense.

It only makes no sense if you're really, really dumb.

We are still finding out a lot of stuff about animals and plants (e.g. their importance to a balanced ecosystem or their medicinal use). How stupid would it be to let them go extinct then then find out: "Oh...this could have cured cancer...but we were too short sighted"
antigoracle
1 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2016
A bit of logic 101 for you:
Just because X causes Y does not mean that Z does not also cause Y.

Uh huh, here's some logic for you. Just because you pull something out of where the sun don't shine, it does not make it true.
Tell us of a single thing, that has been conclusively proven, went extinct due to humans, in the last 10 years.

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