Biodiversity, Extinction, and the End of Evolution

Three excellent articles from Seed Magazine:

How We Evolve takes on the myth of  human evolution being at an end.

Natural selection derives its power to transform from the survival of some and the demise of others, and from differential reproductive success. But we nurse our sick back to health, and mating is no longer a privilege that males beat each other senseless to secure. As a result, even the less fit get to pass on their genes. Promiscuity and sperm competition have given way to spiritual love; the fittest and the unfit are treated as equals, and equally flourish. With the advent of culture and our fine sensibilities, the assumption was, natural selection went by the board. [However,] researchers have discovered in our DNA evidence that culture, far from halting evolution, appears to accelerate it.

The Trouble with Biodiversity discusses the confusion in the scientific community over why biodiversity is greatest in the tropics.

The first response most ecologists give when asked about diversity gradients tends to emphasize the complexity of interacting pressures on diversity. But when pressed, many ecologists will admit they believe in one or at most two main causes of diversity gradients and that we are getting closer to a consensus as to what those are. The trouble is, there is no agreement among those who foresee consensus as to what the consensus will be.

In Defense of Difference ponders what to save in this age of cultural and biological extinction.

[The global epidemic of sameness] has no precise parameters, but wherever its shadow falls, it leaves the landscape monochromatic, monocultural, and homogeneous. Even before we’ve been able to take stock of the enormous diversity that today exists — from undescribed microbes to undocumented tongues — this epidemic carries away an entire human language every two weeks, destroys a domesticated food-crop variety every six hours, and kills off an entire species every few minutes. The fallout isn’t merely an assault to our aesthetic or even ethical values: As cultures and languages vanish, along with them go vast and ancient storehouses of accumulated knowledge. And as species disappear, along with them go not just valuable genetic resources, but critical links in complex ecological webs.