10 September 2009


A Japanese study of urban crows found that the birds dropped hard-shelled nuts in the road at traffic intersections for cars to roll over and crack. When the traffic was heavy, the crows waited for the walk signal before grabbing their snacks from the street. How can you not admire that?

The crow's ability to adapt to man-made environments - in contrast to the struggles of more fragile species - has made it one of the planet's most successful bird species. But this achievement is the source of Haupt's ambivalence: it's everyone's loss, she reminds us, if we create an environment that accommodates only tough survivor species like the crow.
-- from a review by of Deborah Blum of Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

Perhaps in the long run crows, rats, cockroaches and other 'tough' species will radiate into endless new forms most beautiful.


Emily said...

There's an interesting book called Future Evolution, which speculates on just those themes-- I recall, for instance, that some crow descendants become raptors, and take over the ecological niche vacated by birds of prey.

Caspar Henderson said...

Thanks for this, Emily. I'd heard of Dougal Dixon's After Man: A Zoology of the Future, but not of Peter Ward's Future Evolution. The wiki entry on the book reports that a time traveler looking at the refuse-covered habitat of the future is gruesomely attacked by ravenous flesh-eating crows.

I see there was a 2003 TV show called The Future is Wild, portraying ecosystems far into the future. It proposes for 5 million years hence such creatures as:

Babookari, a ground-living New World monkey, descended from the present-day uakari.
Carakiller, a giant flightless bird of prey, descended from the present-day caracara.
Cryptile, a frilled lizard that inhabits salt flats and has a sticky frill.
Deathgleaner, a giant carnivorous bat.
Gannetwhale, a seal-like seabird, descended from the present-day gannet.
Gryken, a slender terrestrial mustelid, descended from the present-day pine marten.
Rattleback, an armoured rodent, descended from the present-day agouti.

...and so on.

Some of the stuff projected by Dixon, especially, but to some extent Ward et al sounds fantastical, albeit with a grounding in evolutionary principles and some thought about how ecological systems work. How much is minatory, and how much is 'for fun?'

One could argue that the most 'useful' work for the time being is study into how changes in the evolutionary short term - the next 100 to 1,000 years or so - resulting from anthropogenic pressures can best be managed: what do we want to protect and conserve and why? How, for example, to maintain corridors for wildlife under rapidly changing climatic conditions? (see, for example, here).

I recall more than 15 years ago Lynn Margulis saying, imagine the evolutionary advantage for bacteria that learn to eat plastic!

Andy Knoll and Norman Myers tried to take a long view here.

Emily said...

Have you heard of Man After Man, also by Dixon? It's even stranger and more wildly speculative than most future-evolution works, since it deals with the future of the human race(and because it incorporates a lot of sci-fi themes, such as cyborgs, genetic modification, and psi powers). In that book, some humans are genetically modified by their cyborg overlords(who are dying out thanks to over-dependence on technology, and want some means of preserving the human race) into less-intelligent species suited to repopulate various habitats which have been emptied by the extinction of large animals.

Emily said...

Also: I saw The Future is Wild when it first aired, and I loved it, even though I thought the land-walking squid were a bit implausible.