Survival of the Fittest

Have we halted the course of natural selection through our conservation efforts?

Natural selection is a process by which only the best-adapted individuals produce the healthiest young; these young continue to carry the adaptations into the next generation, essentially weeding out the weak. An example of this adaptation process can be seen in Darwin’s Finches.

6a00e552f1c77b88340111685820c4970c-800wi Image provided by Google

Further reading can be found in the paper: Darwin’s Finches by Michaela Hau and Martin Wikelski.

 These small birds developed their unique beaks to suit their individual environments, eating either insects or fruit and nuts. Some of these finches even became adept tool users.

Adaptation can take different forms, not just a physical adaptation such as the shape of a beak; the Red Tailed Hawk has taken quite comfortably to making the ledges, nooks and crannies of the bustling city of Manhattan its nesting grounds. When one thinks of a busy bustling city and the birds residing there it’s usually Pigeons and Seagulls. These birds have adapted and grown accustomed to our presence, even associating us with a free meal or two.

 Hyde park London

These Pigeons of Hyde Park in London sought me out for a meal.

 Terrigal ACT

The Rainbow lorikeets in Terrigal ACT receive a meal, though I was not impressed with the numbers when compared to the flocks found in London.

 Conservation seeks to save as many species as possible. Creatures such as the cute Giant Panda are doomed to extinction, and this is not necessarily due to human activities. The Giant Panda females only ovulate once a year in the spring meaning only one chance to produce offspring. They also have only one major food source, Bamboo, which makes up 99% of their diet and also provides them with the water needed for survival. One chance to reproduce and one major food source makes them more vulnerable to extinction as apposed to the Red Tailed Hawk, Pigeons and Seagulls who have adapted quite well to eating our fish and chips. Yum.

Conservation efforts are put in place to see that creatures such as the Giant Panda can stick around so that future generations can wonder, “how did they survive?”

If we were to look at the causes/reasons behind the ‘need’ for conservation efforts we see that humans have either added new threats or accelerated old ones, to the point where there is not enough time to allow adaptation to take place. These are the usual man-made culprits such as deforestation, hunting, urban sprawl and climate change. However, the main reason for this blog entry was to highlight the idea that conservation efforts, while having good intentions, may be fruitless in the long run… but we should still try.


Stacey Manton


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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One Response to Survival of the Fittest

  1. A thought-provoking blog. By this rationale could humans be added to the list of species that are in a tenuous position?

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