Evolution 101- part 15: Co-Evolution and Fish Repair

Remember, normal text is copied from Evolution 101 by the Understanding Evolution team! (with a low tonight of Evolution 92, and tomorrow a high of Evolution 105 with gusts of Empiricism out of the east) http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

BOLD font is me, Rent A Friend 2000, being Bold.

Coevolution: The term coevolution is used to describe cases where two (or more) species reciprocally affect each other’s evolution. So for example, an evolutionary change in the morphology of a plant, might affect the morphology of an herbivore that eats the plant, which in turn might affect the evolution of the plant, which might affect the evolution of the herbivore…and so on.

This would make sense if there was any reason to believe evolution was happening in the first place. So far we have seen none, so providing a scenario where competition or mutual benefit might provide ever changing conditions for natural selection to act in becomes a mental exercise, but still completely unrealistic. For this to matter to the over all scheme of evolution, they need a mechanism by which information is ADDED to the genomes of both species, making it at least twice as unlikely to happen by mutation and other previously discussed mechanisms. If you tear pages out of Green Eggs and Ham AND Peter Rabbit, you will not end up with Lord of the Rings AND The Hobbit. You need some method of adding HUGE amounts of information which, in this case, now relates to the information being added to another volume.

Coevolution is likely to happen when different species have close ecological interactions with one another. These ecological relationships include:

  1. Predator/prey and parasite/host
  2. Competitive species
  3. Mutualistic species

Plants and insects represent a classic case of coevolution — one that is often, but not always, mutualistic. Many plants and their pollinators are so reliant on one another and their relationships are so exclusive that biologists have good reason to think that the “match” between the two is the result of a coevolutionary process.

Let me translate: These plants and insects need each other to survive, almost as if they were designed to work together as two parts of a system. But since a key and lock indicates a locksmith, we reject that out of hand because we believe in EVOLUTION! Somehow plant and insects which NEED each other for survival were naturally selected to survive over the plants and insects which were not so dependent. Yes, read that again. On this view, Natural Selection REWARDS co-dependence over adaptability and independence. This is very much like how sales of the DVD remote (Which requires you to also have a TV remove, a Stereo remote, and a CD changer remote) eclipsed sales of the Universal remote which contains all of those functions.

Oh, wait. No it didn’t, because that would be inexplicably stupid. 

But we can see exclusive “matches” between plants and insects even when pollination is not involved. Some Central American Acacia species have hollow thorns and pores at the bases of their leaves that secrete nectar (see image at right). These hollow thorns are the exclusive nest-site of some species of ant that drink the nectar. But the ants are not just taking advantage of the plant — they also defend their acacia plant against herbivores.

This system is probably [Editor’s Note: “Probably”] the product of coevolution: the plants would not have evolved hollow thorns or nectar pores unless their evolution had been affected by the ants, and the ants would not have evolved herbivore defense behaviors unless their evolution had been affected by the plants.

So they each developed structures and behaviors which were beneficial because of the structures and behavior the other was GOING TO EVOLVE IN THE FUTURE? So now evolution is planning ahead? Now the genetic information in both organisms has to accidentally increase so as to result in structures and behaviors which will be beneficial when the other makes changes sometime in the future. Remember when they said this in part 14? “Natural selection is the simple result of variation, differential reproduction, and heredity — it is mindless and mechanistic. It has no goals…” Since then, Evolution has figure out some way to plan ahead and work toward mutually beneficial goals. How nice. It’s good to see little Evolution applying himself.

And now, a metaphor: You walk into my fish store to buy some salmon, and you see that half of my store is equipped to sell and repair watches. “Why did you combine your fish store with a watch repair shoppe?”

“I used to only sell fish,” I reply, “But I knew my customers would also come here to have their watches repaired, because only I carry this particular kind of battery.” I hold up the rare battery.

“Why would they buy watches with a battery so rare they had to bring their watches to a fish mart to be repaired?” you ask.

“Because they knew I was going to start carrying this battery.”

“But why did you start offering watch repair services and carrying that battery if no one yet owned a watch that needed it?”

“Because I knew that, if I spent the time and money to have a watch repair business here and offered that battery, they would change their habit of taking their watches elsewhere and start buying watches which need this rare battery, and then they’d bring them to my fish mart. And look! Now half of my business is watch repair.”

“What if people stop wearing watches? Or they buy more reliable watches that don’t need such a rare battery?”

“Well,” I reply soberly, “I’d quickly go out of business.”

Thank you.

Join me next week for part 16.



About rentafriend2000
Rocking my 40's with a heart full of love and muffins, science and technology. Jesus loves me and wants me to totally rock! And I am here to help.

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