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The De-Evolution of the Ocean 290

Posted by Zonk
from the everything-is-fine-nero dept.
An anonymous reader writes to mention an LA Times article entitled 'A Primeval Tide of Toxins.' The article looks at changing conditions in the world's oceans, and the resulting explosion in the growth of algae, jellyfish, and other primitive lifeforms. From the article: "In many places -- the atolls of the Pacific, the shrimp beds of the Eastern Seaboard, the fjords of Norway -- some of the most advanced forms of ocean life are struggling to survive while the most primitive are thriving and spreading. Fish, corals and marine mammals are dying while algae, bacteria and jellyfish are growing unchecked. Where this pattern is most pronounced, scientists evoke a scenario of evolution running in reverse, returning to the primeval seas of hundreds of millions of years ago. Jeremy B.C. Jackson, a marine ecologist and paleontologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, says we are witnessing 'the rise of slime.'" The article is parting of a just-beginning series on our changing world called Altered Oceans.
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The De-Evolution of the Ocean

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  • "DE"-evolution? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sebastopol (189276) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:14PM (#15849258) Homepage
    Why is this devolution? It is simply selection pressure: the higher life forms are pressured into extinction, and the jellyfish and algae go back to evolving: one taxonomy branch is pruned so that another may try. That IS evolution (well, a big hoerkin' chunk of it).

  • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:16PM (#15849267)
    It's funny when people claim that things are evolving into "higher" or "lower" forms, as if people are the obvious pinnacle of the process.

    What's happening is that the rate of change in the environment is faster than many species can keep up. When you have 10,000 individuals in a population and they breed every 5 years, they can only "absorb" so much change. When you have a species that has billions of individuals and reproduce every 20 minutes, they can take massive environmental change and thrive in it.

    The genetic diversity in the bigger population is vast and there's bound to be some individuals with higher tolerance of whatever the change is, be it increased temperatures, environmental toxins, or loss of food supplies. If one individual has the gene that boosts survival, it can propagate through the species very rapidly due to short lifespans.

    Think of the human species as the biological equivalent as a comet hitting the earth and you've got it about right.
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:27PM (#15849331) Journal
    If the biology of the sea is reverting back to a more primative state, it could mean that a biological reset and redesign is happening. Go back to a checkpoint in the design, scrap what came after it and start again to see if the new design can better cope with the changed environment.

    Well, what happens is that more sensitive organisms are being killed (not sure "reverting back" is a normal term to use here), because they're more sensitive to specific conditions and food, while more primitive stuff isn't as much. But yes, evolution may take things in different ways, but keep in mind that a million years is a quite short timeframe in an evolutionary perspective, and that these conditions would also need to remain, for things to happen. I'm not even sure humanity will be around to affect the environment much by then. And by then evolution would perhaps even have made us different too.
  • Re:"DE"-evolution? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JDevers (83155) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:28PM (#15849337)
    Exactly. Why does everyone think that evolution only leads to more and more complex life forms? Evolution is simply the never ending meat grinder getting the most out of the available resources. More often than not simple life forms are actually favored, which is why we live in a world with a thousand species of bacteria for every "higher" life form and a few billion individual bacteria for every "higher" life form.

    We (meaning animals) are almost an anomaly, not the rule. Anyway, as you said, as the environment changes so do the life forms that thrive in it. The very small are generally more able to cope with changing environments so they definitely win out in the short term.
  • by rblum (211213) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:31PM (#15849350)
    It's funny when people claim that things are evolving into "higher" or "lower" forms, as if people are the obvious pinnacle of the process.


    "Higher"/"Lower" is common lingo for "complex"/"less complex". And as far as complexity goes, we're fairly high up. It doesn't imply a value judgment.
  • by timeOday (582209) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:32PM (#15849354)
    Of course it is reasonable. Of course it is cause and effect. The question is whether we want to keep causing these effects. I for one would rather not leave the world to mold and cockroaches, even if they are superior in the darwinist sense of adapting to environmental devastation. Let's think deeply about this for a moment... 1) pollution is bad for complex, "highly-evolved" organisms; 2) people are such organisms; 3) you and I are people; 4) do you get it yet?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:39PM (#15849386)
    More highly evolved forms of life are, almost by definition, more specialized and thus will suffer more in the face of rapid (on an evolutionary scale) change as they cannot adapt as well. Simpler life forms have less to go wrong. This isn't de-evolution, it is re-evolution... rewind to the point where the species works and then start the evolutionary process again.
  • by Travoltus (110240) on Friday August 04, 2006 @07:00PM (#15849468) Journal
    Today's topic is pollution, not global warming (which has been proven to be caused by man - an issue only disputed by people already exposed as paid oil industry shills).

    And yes, you are totally out to lunch: we need to stop those chemicals from seeping into our oceans first, before anything else. In case you haven't noticed, organisms are feeding off that stuff and turning into health hazards.

    I mean, unless you just like a life without ever seeing a dolphin, eating a shrimp or what not.
  • This won't happen (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Myria (562655) on Friday August 04, 2006 @07:07PM (#15849496)
    This is assuming that this damage to the oceans can continue indefinitely. A massive extinction of marine animals would make its way up the food chain. Land life would eventually be affected, both by the stuff we're already doing and by the extinction of their marine food. Eventually, it will affect humans. We'd start dying off too, leading to basically a collapse of civilization. It would return us to the stone age. With civilization gone, the damage to the oceans will stop.

    It's very hard to kill all humans. Even now we don't have enough nukes and chemical weapons to kill every single person on Earth. You can probably get 99%, but that still leaves 62,000,000...

    Melissa
  • Well, sure . . . (Score:4, Insightful)

    by StefanJ (88986) on Friday August 04, 2006 @07:27PM (#15849599) Homepage Journal
    . . . but if you rewind the VCR of evolution and let it play again, the show won't be the same.

    It could tens of thousands of years for all the niches to re-fill. And because ecological niches are defined in large part by what life is already around, the new species that arise won't be the same as the ones we are used too and benefit from.

    We could end up with an ocean without fish worth eating. They could be bony or greasy or, like a lot of fish species, poisonous.

    And the human survivors living in the depleted, impoverished ecosystems we leave behind will utterly despise us for our careless, irresponsible, wasteful ways.
  • Re:"DE"-evolution? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lubricated (49106) <michalp@gmCHICAGOail.com minus city> on Friday August 04, 2006 @07:56PM (#15849712)
    well, I'm a biology grad.

    In general during extinctions it is the specialists that do poorly and the generalists that do well. The opposite is true other times.
  • Re:"DE"-evolution? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dan828 (753380) on Friday August 04, 2006 @08:42PM (#15849902)
    Evolution is neither good nor bad, it is a description of what happens. It's kind of like calling gravity or relativity good or bad. There also is no such thing as "de-evolution." Evolution is the change of allele frequencies within a population over time due to differential reproductive success. If this results in a "simpler" form of organism or the extinction of the species all together, it's still evolution. Of the five great extinctions to hit the earth, none of them caused any "de-evolution," they just killed off a good portion of extant species and left a lot a niches open for the survivors to exploit. We might be at the begining of the next great extinction event (though I doubt it'll get to that point, as I think we'll clean up our act before it happens).
  • Re:"DE"-evolution? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Friday August 04, 2006 @09:32PM (#15850087) Journal
    That was pretty much my thought when I read the story.

    Bacteria are no less evolved than us. They've had the same 3-4 billion years, with more intense selection pressure* and much shorter generation times. They are exceedingly well optimised, and are the dominant branch of life on Earth.

    * The larger a population, the more effective evolution is. This is standard nearly-neutral population genetics, demonstrated by Kimura.

    Remember those museum displays labeled "Age of bacteria", "Age of Fish", "Age of Amphibians", "Age of Dinosaurs", "Age of Mammals"? They should have read "Age of Bacteria", "Age of Bacteria (plus a few multicellular marine organisms)", "Age of Bacteria (plus a few multicellular marine and land organisms)". Bacteria dominated the past, they dominate the present, and will be thriving when vertebrates are extinct.

    Consider (as is commonly done) the history of life on Earth as a day (but ending with the end of life on Earth, rather than ending with today.) The Earth will be sterilised by the red-giant phase of the sun, in about 5 billion years. Taking life as starting 3 billion years ago, the Age of Bacteria lasts 8 billion years, and on our 24 hour time scale, that means it is now about 9am.

    Cue music from "Hair":

    This is mid-morning of the Age of Bacteria
    The Age of Bactera
    Bacteria! Bacteria!
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Friday August 04, 2006 @10:05PM (#15850214) Journal
    How come this pseudo-scientific babble was modded +5 interesting? Sure, the concept of life on a planet carrying out a "biological reset" might be a great concept for a science fantasy TV series like Star Trek, but it has no place in any kind of discussion of what might actually be happening on Earth right now. This kind of teleologico-evolutionary raving is no better than the kind of nonsense spouted by Creationists and is a nice example of how many people blindly subscribe to evolutionary theory as a kind of religion without having the faintest clue of what it's actually about. Of course it's not surprising that some people hold such views, but it is mildly shocking that such views get modded to the highest level of interest on /.
  • by porcupine8 (816071) on Friday August 04, 2006 @10:09PM (#15850229) Journal
    Evolution can't "run in reverse." Evolution doesn't have a goal or a direction. Natural selection says that whatever organism is best adapted to a particular environment/nice will reproduce more. It doesn't say that that organism must be more "advanced" or complex than the ones that were in the niche before. Less complex organisms are better able to adapt to the changes happening in these particular environments. Maybe they'll get some new adaptations eventually that lead to their becoming more complex. Maybe not. Maybe the environment will change again to favor the more complex creatures. Maybe not. But it's certainly not running "in reverse."
  • Re:"redesign"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Crazyscottie (947072) on Friday August 04, 2006 @10:32PM (#15850305)
    Redesign, re-randomization... same thing.

    When my four-year-old gets ahold of fingerpaint and showcases her "talent" on a piece of construction paper, I see it as randomization. She sees it as a masterpiece. Who's right?

    The answer: We both are. It just depends on your point of view.
  • by ElectricRook (264648) on Friday August 04, 2006 @10:43PM (#15850347)

    This is merely survival of the fittest, one of the basic tenets of evolution. When something gets kicked out of their niche, this means evolution works as designed.

    If the species that got kicked out of it's niche is one you loved more than the victor, oh well, my advise is ... adapt or die.

    Evolution is what it is...

  • Not the same... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Friday August 04, 2006 @11:40PM (#15850547) Journal
    With a smile on my face, and in the spirt of discussion... I beg to differ. Design and Random are not the same thing.

    "Design" implies purpose. I only meant to point out that some folks are perfectly happy with the idea that stuff can happen without purpose. In my experience stuff happens, on purpose, and otherwise. To me, the suggestion of a "biological reset" is nothing more than a continuation of the random selection, more commonly known as "Evolution". (There is no such thing as "de-evolution" - it is all "survival of the fittest". If simpler organisms survive better... that IS evolution, by definition.)

    Anyhow, it may appear that even lower organisms have a "purpose", which is to begat more of the same. But that begs the question of why they would want to do that - the scientific answer, of course, is the whole point, to wit; They do it because if they didn't, they wouldn't be here now.

    Now, your critical judgment of your child's artistic talent IS a judgment call. While there may be some deep ingrained sense of esthetics that make some art more pleasing than others, in modern terms, Art is whatever they decide is Art. As a parent, of course you may see it as "random", but you will say it is great! (Being one of them, in this case.) In any event, it was not random, your four year old certainly tried to do something on purpose, even if it was no more than "paint this paper" (although, I am sure some random spots did appear on the floor and various items of clothing which were not intentional.)

    As far as your sig, Just because it can't be explained doesn't mean it isn't true. Science fits into reality... not the other way around. - don't forget this:

    Just because it is true, doesn't mean many will not believe. Science gets closer and closer to the truth of reality whether you believe or not.

  • by porcupine8 (816071) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @01:29AM (#15850916) Journal
    But the problem is, people with less science background read things like that and get the idea that that IS how evolution works. I went to a church a couple of weeks ago and the pastor was giving an anti-evolution sermon (not going back there) - and he was using arguments like "evolution claims that if we wait long enough, eventually humanity will evolve into perfection" (with the further argument that only God is perfect, so evolution is wrong). Which is patently untrue, but if the general media keeps churning out things like this it's very easy to see how people get that idea.

    It's not even a useful metaphor. It's more of an attempt at sensationalism.

  • Re:"DE"-evolution? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @03:58AM (#15851317) Homepage
    As a matter of fact, the survival of our whole species is relatively unimportant.

    Importance is a feature of cognition, not of things. We don't have access to a non-human category of "importance." Insofar as the term is meaningful at all, it is meaningful to humans. (When we have access to the epistemology of a dolphin, we can start to "translate" the idea of importance to its dolphin-equivalent.)

    So, if the survival of our species, the very precondition for anything being "important" as we understand it, isn't important, then nothing is.

    The category of importance, in pragmatic terms, isn't to describe some eternal, neutral fact of the universe: it is to generate priorities.
  • by thewiltog (906494) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @12:44PM (#15852534) Journal
    "It's funny when people claim that things are evolving into "higher" or "lower" forms, as if people are the obvious pinnacle of the process."

    As Mark Twain said...

    "Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age; & anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would. I dunno."
    - "Was the World Made for Man?"
  • by Savantissimo (893682) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @04:18PM (#15853215) Journal
    >Really, I find it hard to respect an environmentalist who has four children.

    And I find it hard to respect an evolutionary biologist who does not have at least three kids.

    The whole "too many people" thing is really stupid - we're nowhere near the carrying capacity of the earth, let alone the solar system, and particularly nowhere near the carrying capacity for people who are smart about finding effective ways to use resources. Which really means engineers more than "environmentalists", but ecologists and field biologists are certainly needed too.

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