Balance and Evolution

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Balance and Evolution

Post by iampaul on Tue Apr 05, 2011 7:35 pm

One of the most basic dilemmas that I have mulled over a long time is the question of the extent to which humans should go to interfere with extinctions and to engage in the protection of species. To be absolutely clear, I am not advocating anything like going out and blasting those pesky spotted owls out of the forests so that we can get on with "progress" or anything like that. But I suspect we need to be as careful in our decisions about where and how we may interfere in what we believe to be the name of good as we need to be in making decisions to try to do no harm. Certainly a case such as our realization of the impact DDT was having on birds called for an immediate change in our practices and efforts to bring the balance back to what it was before we began using it. But not all cases are as cut and dried.

Extinctions are a part of the evolutionary process. Natural flux, as well as artificially induced flux, means that boundaries change, swamps dry up one place and develop in others as a stream channel erodes to a certain level that may cause it to change course. So, is it necessarily "right" to try to maintain the species that may face extinction by the relocation of such a swamp? Is it possible that transplanting such species to another nearby swamp in the belief that we are doing something good by preserving them may actually do harm? What if doing so also introduces some other organism of which we are unaware and to which the second swamp is not adapted and so cannot compensate? What if the introduced species itself may cause interference with another evolutionary process in the second swamp of which we were unaware? Even a move between two locations which we believe are quite close may be too much interference.

I look forward to hearing the thoughts of others.

Paul


Last edited by iampaul on Tue Apr 05, 2011 7:58 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : fixing typo)
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Re: Balance and Evolution

Post by RichardF on Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:50 am

When I think about this topic, strings of one-liners keep running through my head. Here are a few.

Everything is related to everything else.

It’s a warring universe.

The Earth does not need us, we need The Earth.

Actions have consequences.

All things must end.

Life finds a way.

Every generalization is dangerous, especially this one.

It mattered to that one.

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Re: Balance and Evolution

Post by iampaul on Wed Apr 06, 2011 9:21 am

RichardF wrote:When I think about this topic, strings of one-liners keep running through my head. Here are a few.
Most of which I agree with, and also wrestle with, on one level or another. But this one in particular gave me pause in relation to this subject:

It mattered to that one.
Ask shellfishers about those sea stars that were just tossed back into the waves, for it certainly matters to them in a different way. The storm that cast them on shore was a natural occurrence which has some part in keeping the balance. Is the boy who is casting them back into the sea interfering with that balance while under the belief that he is doing something good?

Paul
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Re: Balance and Evolution

Post by RichardF on Wed Apr 06, 2011 9:49 am

How about this?

Today more than ever we need to understand and live by harmony and balance with nature, for truly, man separate from nature is a fantasy.

- About Eustace Conway

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Re: Balance and Evolution

Post by iampaul on Wed Apr 06, 2011 10:28 am

RichardF wrote:
Today more than ever we need to understand and live by harmony and balance with nature, for truly, man separate from nature is a fantasy.
Another very good quote, and sentiment. Yet I wonder if the "understanding" part is also something of a fantasy. With each new bit we learn, we find that our previous understanding was flawed in some way. "...live by harmony and balance with nature" truly because we are not separate from nature but are a part of it. We are one face of the pushes and pulls and tugs on the boundaries, part of the balance in some fashion, perhaps just biding time until some equalizing force pushes back to keep our part of the boundary in check. So, understanding to the extent we can may be a prolonging action to help us hang around longer. Does the wolf understand its environs, or merely exploit its place within them to the extent it is able until some other force acts to put it in check?

So, the two faces of the question I am getting out of this so far are that what we do really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things because the earth will go on in spite of us, but the consequences of the least of our interferences may have very far-reaching impacts on the form in which the earth goes on. The smaller our footprint, the longer we may be able remain here - or maybe not. We - and our interferences - are a part of the nature described by Eustace Conway.
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Re: Balance and Evolution

Post by RichardF on Wed Apr 06, 2011 12:26 pm

I think of all of us on Earth as being integral members of the biosphere – “the global sum of all ecosystems.” In that context, I don’t worry so much about attributing intent for an action. In effect, living systems act “as if” they have intent – they “meant to do that!”

Whether you are a human, a virus, a coral reef or the biosphere, you act as if you have intent. Everything is related to everything else. Actions have consequences. The Earth will be here long after humans and many of our contemporaries are gone. And everything will work out just fine.

Now, if you want to start talking about game theory, we also can start asking some interesting questions about how we all got into this evolutionary pickle we’re in! Wink

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Re: Balance and Evolution

Post by RichardF on Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:55 am

I did the math, Rolling Eyes and it turns out we actually can make a difference! Very Happy
The more important question then becomes, will we? Surprised

The key factors in this make-a-difference equation are altruism I love you and our collective world views about it.

Getting back to the game theory of biology, there’s an aspect of evolution called, biological altruism. This is the classic altruistic situation where an individual or group acts for the benefit of others while experiencing added risk or even outright harm to themselves. The evolutionary benefit of such altruism is that it enhances kin selection. In short, evolutionary altruists favor relatives.

Hamilton’s rule puts it like this.

rB > C
where
r = the genetic relatedness of those involved
B = the reproductive benefit to the recipient of the altruistic act
C = the reproductive cost to the altruist

So, acting for the greater good has utilitarian benefit from an evolutionary perspective, as long as the altruist and beneficiary are “related.” The question then becomes, “how much related?”

The classic answers come out like, immediate family, cousins, kin, flocks, herds, schools, clans, tribes and such. The more expansive answers get into the interrelations within and among ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole. The pickle we find ourselves in is that our technology has outpaced our genetic altruistic perspective. We can mess up things so fast and so much that what appears to benefit ourselves and our kin ultimately will do us in, if we stay on the same course.

So, what’s the solution to this formula for short-term gains and long-term annihilation? Change the formula! sunny It’s quite simple, really. Just add in a new variable, W, and crank up its value. Here’s how it works.

rWB > C
where
r = the genetic relatedness of those involved
W = the altruist’s world view on how much everything is related to everything else
B = the reproductive benefit to the recipient of the altruistic act
C = the reproductive cost to the altruist

That W actually is in the original equation. It’s value is just “1” so there’s no real need to show it. If humans, or some other life form, are going to make a difference for the overall survivability of any particular species or ecosystems, then they are going to have to bump up their collective world view relatedness value to be greater than 1 before it’s too late. It’s too late for many species already and soon-to-be extinct. It’s also an unsolved equation for whether or not it’s already too late for those pesky humans as well.

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Re: Balance and Evolution

Post by Tigger34 on Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:44 pm

Paul, thanks for starting this topic. You have posed some thought provoking questions. (And there have been some interesting and thought provoking responses.)

Your examples and questions are ones I have often pondered. I believe I have come to the conclusion that a very simple (if that is possible) case of a species becoming extinct simply due to natural causes and/or evolutionary changes perhaps needs no interference from humans to perpetuate the species. Examples of this may be the dying out of a species which is (naturally) geographically isolated and thus has too small of a gene pool to make it viable. Another example could be that of a species that is dying out because its home was destroyed or is being destroyed (for instance, a rare species on a sinking island or reef). (And I am not necessarily advocating that we do not attempt to save these species. I am merely stating these may be examples of natural causes for a species to go extinct.)

However, I feel the problem is that most current extinctions and threatened extinctions do not fall under the category of ‘species going extinct due to purely natural causes.’ Humans and their activity have greatly accelerated the changes in the environment (global warming, sea rise, habitat destruction, pollution, poisoning, etc.) which are causing the majority of problems for various species. These species are endangered because of human activity, not because of natural evolutionary changes or natural environmental changes. In addition, most, but not all, past environmental changes have occurred over thousands of years thus giving most species time to adapt to the changes. Now, instead of these environmental changes occurring over thousands of years, the changes may occur in only a few weeks or months, giving the affected species no time to adapt. We dam rivers, drain swamps, change river courses, cut down forests, cover land with asphalt and buildings, disrupt migratory routes and breeding grounds, pollute streams and other waterways, deplete fish and animal numbers by over fishing, over hunting and destruction of breeding grounds, kill plants, animals, birds, reptiles and fish with poisons and pesticides, and generally wreak havoc on the earth and the inhabitants of the earth. None of this activity can, in my opinion, be considered natural and therefore extinctions that are being caused by these unnatural activities do not, in my opinion, fall under the category of natural evolutionary process.

I agree with you that relocating species to other areas can sometimes create unforeseen problems and that factor must be considered.

Personally, I feel that the emphasis should be on stopping the destructive practices in which we now engage (pollution, large scale farming practices, damming rivers and streams, draining swamps, urban sprawl, developments in the country and forests, etc.) (and, it means stopping them now, not in 10 or 20 years), dismantling some of the structures we have built (dams, buildings, developments, etc.), restoring lost habitats and migratory routes, expanding eco-friendly, sustainable farming practices, etc. At the same time, because it will take time to stabilize and reverse the destruction we have already caused, I do think we need to protect endangered species and prevent more species from going extinct. Once those species are gone, they are gone. We will lose diversity and beauty, but we will also lose much more. Nature is very intertwined. We need many of those species to ensure our own survival.


Last edited by Tigger34 on Tue Apr 19, 2011 10:10 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Balance and Evolution

Post by Elizabeth on Mon Apr 18, 2011 10:27 pm

One of my mentors used to always say "You can't pick a daisy without troubling a star".

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Re: Balance and Evolution

Post by Tigger34 on Tue Apr 19, 2011 10:45 am

Mekong River Dam at Center of High Stakes Conservation Fight
by Miranda Leitsinger, April 19, 2011 (msnbc.com)

"Millions of people living along the Mekong River face a crisis that could destroy their lifeline and kill off whole species of fish: construction of a dam — the first of 11 proposed in the waterway's lower basin — in Laos.

Conservationists warn that the dam could significantly reduce the critical fish stock in the Mekong, the world's most productive inland fishery.

Laos deferred a decision on the hydropower dam Tuesday in the face of strong opposition from neighboring countries including its closest ally, Vietnam. But any decision could be a moot point, as a Thai newspaper reported Sunday that work on the project apparently began months ago despite questions and opposition from conservationists and Laos's downriver neighbors, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The Xayaburi dam would generate 1,260 megawatts of electricity, mostly for export to Thailand, according to the Mekong River Commission — created by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in 1995 to oversee sustainable development along the waterway. ..............."

Full article here:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42649686/ns/world_news-asiapacific/

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