Article: Survival of the Friendliest
Most people tend to think that evolution is characterized by “survival of the fittest”, which they mistakenly interpret as meaning “survival of the strongest”. What survival of the fittest means, according to Daniel Quinn, is “survival of the one who fits best in an ecological niche”. This sounds already much friendlier.
This article shows that evolution and Nature are even more friendly than previously thought:
“The relief of an easier life can inspire new biological forms just as powerfully as the threat of death.”
Analyzing 4.000 bird species breeding behavior has shown that not, as previously thought, migration to harsher environments has encouraged social behavior, but that social behavior was developed first, and allowed the birds to migrate to those ecosystems, giving them an advantage for the survival of their species.
The concept of the ecosystem was introduced by Sir Arthur Tansley in 1935. It is based on his belief that Nature operated like a machine, and so, “like an engineer, sought to map the flow of energy and matter through life and its environment.” Hereby he misunderstands what an ecological niche is, it is not only “the raw physical parameters of an animal’s environment: salinity, alkalinity, humidity, temperature. It’s a web of relations, not just between a species and its habitat, but also with all the other species co-existing in the same space. A niche is no less dynamic than evolution is, contrary to Tansley’s mechanistic vision.”
Coral reefs create themselves and therefore create themselves a safe place to live, slowing down the currents and therefore reducing erosion on themselves. They also house a vast number of other species, some of which in return protect their home/host, the corals.
“If an organism can modify its niche—by altering itself or its relationships with other species—it has the chance to build the world in which its future progeny will evolve, reshaping it to better ensure their survival.”
The author expands a theoretic form of animist thought into the realms of bacteria, who live in interdependent communities and are highly dependent on one another for their survival, to the point that it is “estimated that 98 percent of bacterial species cannot be singly cultured in a lab”, because they would miss their bacteria friends so much that they literally can’t live without them.
“In the Black Queen model, organisms shed genes coding for functions that other species in the environment already provide. It’s a foil to the better-known Red Queen hypothesis, which posits that organisms are subject to a sort of evolutionary arms race, ever adapting new weapons and defenses just to avoid extinction. Though evolution is often characterized as a forward march of complexity, organisms actually shed genes quite often. Biological functions are metabolically costly to maintain, and if they aren’t strictly necessary, they’re best excluded from a genome.”
“Long periods of harmonious co-existence may be the evolutionary precursor for true symbiotic relationships. Billions of years ago, another ancient cyanobacteria was engulfed and “domesticated” by an ancestor of plants. It shed most of the genes it needed for an independent existence and became what we now know as the chloroplast. In return for a safe environment, these chloroplasts performed photosynthesis for their hosts, fueling a new form of life that eventually spread over much of the Earth. It’s likely this same kind of division of labor was a seed for the development of multicellular organisms”
In the end, the article draws a conclusion about what this means, for us humans, and confirms what we already thought:
“Evolution is not a weapons race, but a peace treaty among interdependent nations.”
The author somehow still makes the all-too-common mistake of assuming that we humans are now more cooperative than during the Pleistocene, which by now is largely dismissed by anthropological findings.