Did you say, “gradualist”?

How gradual must evolution be for an evolutionist to be called “gradualist”?

Today I was reading the interesting, and by all means very good, paper by Lowe et al (2017) Trends Ecol. Evol. 32: 141-152, and the Authors say in the Introduction:

“In the past decade, ecologists have embraced the concept of eco-evolutionary dynamics, which emphasizes the power of ecological selection to cause rapid adaptation and, likewise, for adaptive evolution to influence ecological processes in real time [10,11]. The perceived novelty of this concept appears to stem from the fast rate of interaction between ecological conditions and phenotypic adaptation, which contrasts with traditional, gradualistic models of adaptation.” (my highlight).

A quick question and comment crossed my mind.

All this thing of evolutionary processes being “traditionally” considered gradual is a vast hoax.

Consider uncle Charlie (Darwin) himself. Where did he get (the mechanism behind) the theory of evolution by natural selection? from fossils? rare mutations in DNA sequences?

NO. He got it from observing people around him selecting pigeons, sheeps and ornamental plants. Did that happen over millions of years? No. It happended over few generations (of pigeons!).

So the whole thing that we realised only in the last decade that evolution can happen quickly, while “traditional” science (read: conservative, backward “standard” evolutionary biologists) thought this impossible, is plain wrong.

It is true that one only (generally) finds things that she looks for. Consequently, if we think that evolution over few generations (or, for that matter, genetic divergence over few tens of meters) cannot happen, then we’ll never look for it and never find it.

I invite you reader, though, to take half an hour and go wander through the older ecological-genetic literature, and you’ll find abundant proof that people have kept looking for – and finding! – fast evolutionary shifts for at least a century. I’m not even talking about Biston betularia or the LTEE. I’m talking plenty of observations that have recurrently witnessed fast evolution everywhere.

 

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