Evolution, Accelerated


Scientists have mostly discussed and understood evolution as a process whose effect can only be ascertained over the course of thousands, if not millions of years. In essence, evolution is defined as a change in a population's genetic composition over many generations, due to the effect of natural selection acting on individual genetic variation, that results in the development of new species. And although this notion still holds true for the most part, the Smithsonian Magazine's Jen Phillips notes that researchers have increasingly begun to notice the growing role that climate change has played in accelerating the rate of evolution in certain species.

In an effort to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions being spurred by the advent of global warming, species of plants and animals have been engaging in an evolutionary arms race to take advantage of declining resources and space. Warm-weather animals such as shallow-water squid and weed field mustard, in particular, have been able to outcompete their cold-weather colleagues for precious food and territory. Upon encountering changing weather regimes, species are forced to tweak their physiological mechanisms and reproductory rates to quickly conform to their new environment, adaptations that can accumulate in the form of genetic mutations and get passed down to their offspring, eventually leading to speciation.

The effect of these invading species can be detrimental and often results in fundamental ecosystem-level changes. Shane Wright, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, notes that tropical animals will only benefit up to a certain point, however, remarking that, "There can be too much of a good thing."

See also: ::What if Darwin Did Davos?

Related Content on Treehugger.com