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Climate science: adaptation not necessarily a good thing and evolution is much faster than we thought

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From The Guardian:

Narwhals have been delaying their seasonal migration because of the impact of the climate crisis, suggesting an ability to adapt to the changing Arctic but increasing the risk that they may become trapped in ice, according to new research.

That’s not really adaptation, is it? That relates to more fundamental things.

We like being in the garden in the summer when the weather’s nice; we go inside again when it cools off. We don’t look at a clock and go inside at a set time each day. It’s the same with the narwhals, when the Arctic gets too cold for them in autumn/winter, they move south. The narwhals don’t have a calendar that tells them which date to head south, their body thermometer tells them when. That’s not adaptation, that is what they are pre-programmed to do.

Having established that they are plenty intelligent enough to cope with such changes, there has to be some bad news (“increased risk that they may become trapped” etc).

“The rate of change that we’re seeing now in the Arctic is a huge concern for a lot of animals because it could exceed how quickly the animals can adapt through evolution,” said Shuert [Canadian researcher].

Evolutionary changes happen on much slower time scales than a few decades and is completely irrelevant here. They have already evolved to cope with very cold temperatures and are pre-programmed to migrate north or south to sort of hit the optimum each year, whenever that is.

I would assume that they are descended from warm water marine animals and gradually evolved to be able to spread to new, colder areas (where there were fewer hunters per available fish stocks) over time by developing thicker blubber etc. How long did this evolution take? Longer than the last few proper 100,000-year Ice Age cycles, of which we fragile and delicate humans have also survived several, that’s for sure.


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