1 June 2022

At … a study into how wild animals are adapting to changes in the environment may show that the process of adaptive evolution is shorter than expected. Natural selection is said to cause a genetic change in traits that favour survival. Are some modern elephants evolving to become tuskless in response to poaching? Can they adapt fast enough? How will they feed themselves without tusks to pull down branches? Not a simple kind of adaptation. Other changes in traits may be more likely. In fact, the fundamental theorem of natural selection is difficult to apply in practice. Statistics get in the way.

A new study has assembled data from 19 will animal populations that have been monitored for long periods of time, some since the 1950s. Some 250,000 animals are in the data base – and 2.6 million hours of field work, and recording. However, most of the data is useless for adaptive evolution as a lot of the animals in the study did not have descendants. They were picked up as animals under threat, injured, or sick. The conclusion is, shall we say, hopeful. They admit proof is not available as yet, but as the years progress, and more and more field work and recording is done, the hope is that the study will prove to be correct.

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