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The De-Evolution of the Ocean 290

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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  • by cwills ( 200262 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:12PM (#15849245)
    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.
  • "De"-evolution? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by imemyself ( 757318 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:19PM (#15849276)
    I'm not a biologist, but why is this de-evolution? Evolution is just organism's adapting to their environment over many generations through natural selection. There have been plenty of times when simpler organism's triumphed when more complex ones failed. Take the dinosaurs for instance. Simple things like cockroaches and small rodents survived while the much larger and more complicated dinosaurs died out. Types of bacteria have been around basically forever (as far as life on the Earth is concerned).

    Really, (again, I'm not a biologist) it seems like simpler organisms are generally the things that make it through massive changes in the enviornment, because the more complicated animals are too-adapted to the current condiditions and can't evolve fast enough (too long of lifespans maybe?). The exception to this might be animals (humans) that are smart enough to either adapt their enviornment to them (for better or worse), or use tools to protect themselves from that change.
  • by quokkapox ( 847798 ) <> on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:21PM (#15849300)

    We humans are drastically changing the environment. In this century we will see mass extinction. We will also see mass adaptations and new speciation. The hardiest and most successful new species may turn out to be the bacteria and engineered organisms and ultimately nanotechnological devices that can break down and reprocess our industrial waste. Who is to say all of this isn't natural? We're 100% natural, we evolved here and we're part of this system. Whatever we do, it's natural by definition.

    The question is, what do we place value upon keeping around? The polar bears, the coral reefs, the rain forests? Polar bears are cute. Have you ever walked through a forest? I'd like for my kids to be able to go diving someday...

  • Let's eat algae! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:25PM (#15849321) Homepage
    Whatever the cause, over-hunting, over fishing, toxic waste, global warming, it means something to us in terms of food. People talk about environmental changes in terms that don't mean quite so much as food. If it affects our food supplies, then it really affects us.

    As far as "de-evolution" is concerned, it'll take another 500 million+ years before anything "new" comes about if ever. But what it does mean is that we will likely starve to death before we see whatever comes next.
  • Re:"DE"-evolution? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mark of THE CITY ( 97325 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:26PM (#15849328) Journal
    Disclaimer: I have a Ph.D. in chemistry but am not a marine environmental researcher.

    What is happening is a massive die-off of many highly adapted species, which, directly or indirectly, depended on oceanic dissolved oxygen being higher, pH being slightly alkaline, and toxin levels being lower.

    A big culprit here is phosphate and nitrate fertilizer runoff; read the series for all the details.

    Re-evolution may take as long as the first time; don't hold your breath!
  • hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the_other_one ( 178565 ) * on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:31PM (#15849347) Homepage
    Does anyone have any good recipies for jellyfish and algae?
  • Just Life's Cycle. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vegeta99 ( 219501 ) < minus city> on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:32PM (#15849355)
    I'm from Williamsport, PA. At one time, that small, now drug-ridden city was called the "Lumber Capital of the World", and had the highest level of millionaires per-capita in the entire world. Unfortunately, demand for lumber rose a little faster than the trees did, and now is not the same. In 6th or 7th grade, we went out to a nature preserve (that the power plant owns - I believe the government made them due it due to all the coal pollution). He explained to us why there were so many evergeen trees in the area and not much in the way of deciduous forest. The explanation seemed pretty logical to me - Once everything in the forest was killed off by the lumberjacks, it pretty well fucked up the ecosystem. But life isn't so easily put off. First, the lesser photosynthetic life returns, ferns, small plants, etc. and so on up until you finally get pine trees, and then deciduous trees. Animal life takes just as long to return. I never saw an elk until I was probably 16 or so (I'm 20 now.), and now they actually auction off a few elk tags a year.

    Once we figure out how to stop destroying our oceans, the balance will correct itself, but it will take many, many years. I kinda wonder how long until my hometown returns to it's former affluent ways (ha.).
  • Re:"De"-evolution? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the phantom ( 107624 ) * on Friday August 04, 2006 @06:39PM (#15849387) Homepage
    Minor nitpick: Organisms do not evolve, populations do. Otherwise, your post is right on. The more highly adapted species (specialists) are capable of filling only very specific niches. When that niche disappears, the population either changes, or dies out. If the change to the environment/niche is very rapid, the species is unlikely to be able to adapt quickely enough, especially if they have longer life cycles and small populations (relative to, say, bacteria). Less highly adapted species (generalists) have a better chance at survival, especially if they have shorter life-spans, and larger populations (which imply greater genetic variability), as it is likely that the genes needed to survive in the new environment are already present in some sub-section of the population, and only need the chance to spread.
  • by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @07:02PM (#15849478)
    There's a fun little site where you can compare chromosome counts []. Some highlights:
    Homosapiens - 46
    Duck-Billed Platypus - 70
    Common carp - 99
    Aphid - 5
    Trapdoor spiders - 80
    Amoeba - 30 to 40

    Now, you can't compare "complexity" to chromosome counts, but I'd suggest that there's some rather complex little critters out there.
  • Re:hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shawb ( 16347 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @07:10PM (#15849516)
    My guess would be that there are some good recipies for this in Japan. I know that there are various algae that are extremely popular (Nori, the green stuff that sushi is often rolled in (among other uses) is a type of seaweed, of which pretty much all are algae.) Spirulina is what people would more identify as algae, and is often used as a food additive. Soylent blue-green anybody? I think algae would just about win the crown for efficient nutrient production out of any foodstuff... can be grown in fresh, brackish or salt water. VERY efficient at photosynthesis and also conversion of that energy into foodstuff rather than expended on life processes. Wide range of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, healthy oils... just that western society would take some acclimitization to enjoy algae in any form as a primary vegetable. Also I believe algae is also pretty effecient at absorbing heavy metals and other toxins from the water, so this would prove some difficulty in converting our waste stream into fertilizer for the algae... although a lot of the higher seafoods ultimately eat organisms which ate organisms which ate... down the line untill something ate algae. This long chain leaves a lot of space for bioaccumulation to occur which means many of the more harmful toxins (Organic Mercuric compounds, Lead, DDT, etc) would be far less concentrated in the algae than say any fish we pull out of the same water.

    After doing a little research, it appears that jellyfish is a common enough food in Japan and Australia. The general verdict seems to be that... it tastes like seaweed. It seems to me that jellyfish really wouldn't have a whole lot of nutritional value, as it is mostly salt water. Then again I've never really done a nutritional analysis on jellyfish. I suppose a large amount of the water could be removed in cooking, but for some reason jellyfish just don't seem like they could be commercially harvested and processed into food on a large enough scale to feed the entire world.

    I assume you would be able to find a recipe for jellyfish-seaweed soup with very minimal googling.
  • by r00t ( 33219 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @08:20PM (#15849813) Journal
    Haven't you ever seen a cat lady?

    She feeds them by the dozen or worse. She provides blankets, selecting perfectly unwrinkled ones in soothing colors to ensure the cats will be happy. She pays to have shelters built.

    Even the less-crazy people are totally enslaved by crop plants. We built elaborate irrigation systems, protect the plants from disease, spread the seeds around the world...
  • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @08:20PM (#15849814) Homepage
    Specilization for a certain environment will cause an organism to be successful as long as that environment is static. But once an environment changes, specilization becomes a very bad (=extention) thing.

    There have been several mass extinction in the history of Earth. In each, the majority of species went extinct. Some of the coolest, most complex creatures can be found in the fossil record, but they died out when the environment changed.

    I think humans are unique in that our increasing complexity (manifested in our brains) will cause us to survive the next mass extinction while all the other complex species die out. This is speculation, of course, but it may be just us, microbes, and plants some day.

    Alternatively, we may become so powerful that we will be able to stop all future mass extinctions. That's a fantastic thought, but our current carbon-regulating attempts are the first attempt at such a feat. Building something like a giant, polarized sun-shield may be required eventually, though.
  • a temporary problem (Score:2, Interesting)

    by r00t ( 33219 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @09:00PM (#15849965) Journal
    Remember: survival of the fittest

    Today, human evolutionary fitness means a burning desire to have children. Abortion and birth control will soon be defeated. People who use such things are being strongly selected against.

    Evolution is moving fast on this one. We'll be back to having double-digit families in a few centuries at most. Eventually, people will be demanding high-tech help so that they can have several dozen kids per woman.
  • Re:"DE"-evolution? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kestasjk ( 933987 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @09:44PM (#15850130) Homepage
    Re-evolution is rather flattering, it implies that we're the end result of evolution; but it's silly to think that our more distant cousins are 'less evolved' than us because they're smaller/not-conscious. They have been around for just as long as we have, and if they have changed less than us that only shows how successful their genes are.

    I haven't seen the word 'evolution' consistantly misused like this since Pokemon.. "Gather 'round everyone, this Bulbusaur is EVOLVING!"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 04, 2006 @10:32PM (#15850307)
    Chromosomal count is probably the stupidest metric I've ever seen. The number of dna base pairs is somewhat justifiable (old retrovirus dna isn't of much import), the number of genes is justifiable but the number of chromosomes???

    How does a randomly sized unit of genetic information without much to do with actual genetic size or complexity show anything useful about an organism? Have you seen the variance in a human set of chromosomes, 100 Y-like chromosomes means very little for example.

    Even base pairs and genes doesn't matter much as one can have a lot of genes in a simple network which do a lot "less" than fewer genes in a more complex network.
  • by ChronoFish ( 948067 ) on Friday August 04, 2006 @10:48PM (#15850360) Journal
    "...I think humans are unique in that our increasing complexity (manifested in our brains) will cause us to survive the next mass extinction..."

    Whether or not we survive the *current* mass extinction has nothing to do with our uniqueness. It only has to do with our ability to endure and reproduce in the resultant environment.

    Our scientific, industrial, and social developments are a part of evolution - not inspite of it or a replacement for it. As a result, humans are not exempt from extinction.

  • An unbounded "mark" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SailorThor ( 993353 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @12:52AM (#15850817)
    Am I the only one who picked up on this???

    For many years, it was assumed that the oceans were too vast for humanity to damage in any lasting way. "Man marks the Earth with ruin," wrote the 19th century poet Lord Byron. "His control stops with the shore."

    The presumption, then, was that because our "control" stops at the shore, our "mark" stops at the shore? How silly. Far more likely: the old guy figured this out way back when, wrote EXACTLY what he meant, and this goof read the line poorly.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972