Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The Red Queen was right: Life must continually evolve to avoid extinction

Date:
June 20, 2013
Source:
University of California - Berkeley
Summary:
Biologists quote Lewis Carroll when arguing that survival is a constant struggle to adapt and evolve. Is that true, or do groups die out because they experience a run of bad luck? Biologists tested these hypotheses using mammals that arose and died out (or are now dying out) in the past 66 million years, and found that it's not luck but failure to adapt to a deteriorating environment.

As the Red Queen told Alice, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Similarly, animals and plants must continually adapt and evolve just to avoid going extinct.
Credit: Illustration by Sir John Tenniel from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, 1871

The death of individual species shouldn't be the only concern for biologists worried about animal groups, such as frogs or the "big cats," going extinct. A University of California, Berkeley, study has found that a lack of new, emerging species also contributes to extinction.

"Virtually no biologist thinks about the failure to originate as being a major factor in the long term causes of extinction," said Charles Marshall, director of the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology and professor of integrative biology, and co-author of the report. "But we found that a decrease in the origin of new species is just as important as increased extinction rate in driving mammals to extinction."

The effects of such a decrease would play out over millions of years, Marshall said, not rapidly, like the global change Earth is experiencing from human activities. Yet, the findings should help biologists understand the pressures on today's flora and fauna and what drove evolution and extinction in the past, he added.

The results, published June 20 in the journal Science Express, come from a study of 19 groups of mammals that either are extinct or, in the case of horses, elephants, rhinos and others, are in decline from a past peak in diversity. All are richly represented in the fossil record and had their origins sometime in the last 66 million years, during the Cenozoic Era.

The study was designed to test a popular evolutionary theory called the Red Queen hypothesis, named after Lewis Carroll's character who, in the book "Through the Looking Glass," described her country as a place where "it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

In biology, this means that animals and plants don't just disappear because of bad luck in a static and unchanging environment, like a gambler losing it all to a run of bad luck at the slot machines. Instead, they face constant change -- a deteriorating environment and more successful competitors and predators -- that requires them to continually adapt and evolve new species just to survive.

Though the specific cause of declining originations and rising extinctions for these groups is unclear, the researchers concluded that the mammals' death was not just dumb luck.

"Each group has either lost, or is losing, to an increasingly difficult environment," Marshall said. "These groups' demise was at least in part due to loss to the Red Queen -- that is, a failure to keep pace with a deteriorating environment."

Marshall and former UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow Tiago Quental found that the animal groups were initially driven to higher diversity until they reached the carrying capacity of their environment, or the maximum number of species their environment could hold. After that, their environment deteriorated to the point where there was too much diversity to be sustained, leading to their extinction.

"In fact, our data suggest that biological systems may never be in equilibrium at all, with groups expanding and contracting under persistent and rather, geologically speaking, rapid change," he said.

Marshall and Quental, who is now at the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil, will present their results in two talks this Saturday, June 22, at the Evolution 2013 meeting in Snowbird, Utah.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Berkeley. The original article was written by Robert Sanders. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Tiago B. Quental, Charles R. Marshall. How the Red Queen Drives Terrestrial Mammals to Extinction. Science, 2013 DOI: 10.1126/science.1239431

Cite This Page:

University of California - Berkeley. "The Red Queen was right: Life must continually evolve to avoid extinction." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130620142934.htm>.
University of California - Berkeley. (2013, June 20). The Red Queen was right: Life must continually evolve to avoid extinction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130620142934.htm
University of California - Berkeley. "The Red Queen was right: Life must continually evolve to avoid extinction." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130620142934.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: San Diego Zoo Welcomes Cheetah Cubs

Raw: San Diego Zoo Welcomes Cheetah Cubs

AP (Sep. 20, 2014) The San Diego Zoo has welcomed two Cheetah cubs to its Safari Park. The nearly three-week-old female cubs are being hand fed and are receiving around the clock care. (Sept. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

AP (Sep. 19, 2014) A federal jury has convicted three people in connection with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths. (Sept. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins