Charles Darwin’s ‘Theory of Evolution‘ has been the subject of study and critique since its publication in 1859. Now, 138 years after his death, new evidence supporting Darwin’s theories has been revealed. This research suggests that the impact humans have on animals will affect the future of their evolution.
Darwin’s elegantly simple theory suggests a mechanism for species to change over time. He proposed that organisms which are better adapted to their environment would be more likely to survive and produce offspring. This has been termed ‘survival of the fittest’ or ‘natural selection’.
Darwin is known as the ‘Father of Evolution’. During a five-year voyage to the Galapagos Islands he made many significant observations. After years of analysis he published his book On the Origins of Species by Natural Selection. In this book, he explains his ‘Theory of Evolution’ in great detail. Darwin referred to the 500 page text as an “abstract”. He was unable to fit all his ideas into one book, and therefore summarised key points.
At the time of publication, Darwin’s work was heavily criticised due to views contradicting the Bible. Most of the modern world currently accepts the ‘Theory of Evolution’ as the best explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. Numerous sources of evidence have been used to support Darwin’s theory in the past. Despite this it has remained a contentious issue in some areas of society. Emerging research has been published lending further support to the theory.
Van Holstein’s research has shown that subspecies play a significant role in evolutionary dynamics and the future development of species.
Research, carried out by Laura van Holstein, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, has shown that mammal subspecies play a more important role in evolution than previously thought. Subspecies are populations within a species that differ by their physical traits and breeding capacities. Subspecies are relatively common in mammals, other than humans.
Darwin suggested that species with more lineages contain higher levels of diversity. This leads to more opportunities for selection. Van Holstein’s research has shown that subspecies play a significant role in evolutionary dynamics and the development of species. Darwin predicted this in his publications. Van Holstein’s work also showed that subspecies emerge differently for terrestrial and aquatic mammals.
Van Holstein used data modelling software to study speciation (the emergence of new species) based on anthropological work from the past few hundreds of years. This allowed her to analyse thousands of species. She looked at many aspects of species development and richness (the number of species in a genus) at the same time. She found that subspecies could be seen as one of the first stages of speciation.
Conservationists can create evolutionary models showing how the future evolution of species will be impacted due to human activities
This research can be used is to create scientific models predicting evolution. Conservationists can create evolutionary models showing how the future evolution of species will be impacted due to human activities. This can help predict which species are at risk of extinction due to threats such as deforestation. As a result of this research conservation efforts can be focussed on saving species from disappearing forever. Humans will, inevitably, be the cause of some species extinction. The existence of subspecies may mean that evolution will continue in their closest relatives.