Backyard birdfeeders driving avian evolution

To: "'Michael Tarburton'" <>
Subject: Backyard birdfeeders driving avian evolution
From: "Andrew Bell" <>
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 07:44:37 +0930
I'm getting the impression that the discussion may have drifted science vs
CMI, so, with a nod to my Creator in appreciation of the beauty of it all
I'm bowing out




From: Michael Tarburton  
Sent: Tuesday, 8 December 2009 7:12 AM
To: Andrew Bell
Cc: 'Peter Shute'; ; ;

Subject: Backyard birdfeeders driving avian evolution

G'day All who are following this thread that Laurie so kindly brought to our

Ok I said "almost always" because it is known in science (& hopefully common
sense) that it is very hard in practical terms to exclude every possibility.
ie. to prove something all you have to do is show that it is true in one or
more cases.  To disprove something you have to have investigated all cases -
how do you know when you have achieved that?  In many situations you cant so
you have to look at probabilities.

So can you come up with an example of an "occasional advantageous genetic
mutation"?  If you cant then this aspect of evolutionary theory is baseless.

Going back to the original example of the Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla we can
use Darwinian or neo-Darwinian selective theory to explain that those birds
going to the UK instead of Spain would have an advantage in that they are
better fed in winter and have less distance to return to their breeding
grounds.  This means they arrive at the breeding grounds in better condition
and earlier than the birds wintering in Spain. David Lack's research shows
this probably gives them the choice of the best breeding sites and greater
success in producing more offspring than those going to Spain.  In time they
will (have?) outnumbered the other portion of their population.

I see no problem with that - and they probably can revert to the other form
if conditions change back (but that varies between characters) but they are
still blackcaps no new genes have been produced just an advantage to those
whose genes allowed them to go to the UK instead of Spain.  This is similar
to Biston betularia the Peppered Moth that was touted in Uni & high school
text books ad nauseam as examples of evolution.  Problem is they are still
Peppered Moths and they have started to revert to the lighter form and the
evidence is that they started to do so before the UK started their clear air
program.  Problem with that example is that much of the research has been
shown to be faulty & fraudulent. [see Evolutionary Biology 30: 299-322. The
Scientist 13(11):]  That has not stopped some text books still using it.

The examples of Darwin's finches is not too different. Now that good times
have returned to the Galapagos Islands (at least for the finches) the
heavy-billed birds have lost their advantage and are returning to the
narrow-billed form.  This is not evidence for the development of new genes.
is is evidence that Darwin's selection pressures can select for certain
genes under certain circumstances.  Nothing new has been created.

So there is good evidence that the environment can selectively favour
certain genes but I am still waiting for just one example of a new gene
having evolved.

Cheers & happy thinking


Michael Tarburton


On 07/12/2009, at 11:52 PM, Andrew Bell wrote:

They key is in the statement "almost always" - ie  not always.   Although
artificial selection often retains maladaptive characteristics through human
interference, natural selection can be expected to eliminate most
maladaptive mutations quite efficiently while selecting for the occasional
advantageous one.  This is the evolutionary process as generally understood.
My understanding is  that genetic material is not necessarily lost at all,
expression of genes can be turned off and altered, only to be turned on
again later in descended species - maybe by changes in bits of DNA we don't
conventionally see as genes - it seems we are just beginning to understand a
lot of this and the roll of the so called "junk DNA"  - watch this space
over the next ten years!. Genetic evolution is quite conservative, ie it
used and re-uses the same genes, often in new and different ways. I 
I don't know where the quote below comes from,  but I'm not sure why
enhancing one characteristic "is likely to be at the expense of others" ,
one could just as easily write "is likely to benefit other characteristics".
Evolution through the natural selection of novel mutations and
rearrangements does indeed enhance the richness of  the information - hence
the diversity of life birds to marvel at. Just wish they 'ld diverged a bit
more at times when struggling to ID  those LBJs and waders!


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