The Mysteries of Evolution: From Dogs to Us

This weeks readings provided interesting insights on the many mysteries that surround the evolution of dogs as well as on our feelings in regards to our own evolution. I really enjoyed both articles and felt that each presented some very valid arguments in addition to posing some thought provoking questions.  I felt like How the Dog Became the Dog by Derr and Zuk’s article Misguided Nostalgia for Our Paleo Past tied together well in many aspects in relation to the complexities of evolution.

In How the Dog Became the Dog, Derr did a great job of presenting the evolution of the wolf to the dog using a variety of evidence from a multitude of different fields of study. He was able to combine the many archaeological findings with all the information on modern species to disprove some of the less fact based theories on how dogs came to be, and in doing so created a lose timeline of how and where the dog originated. Central to his theory is the idea that there are significant overlaps, both in genotype and phenotype, between the stages from the wolf to the dog. I thought this was a very logical way to look at evolution, and it stuck me as strange that this idea wasn’t really a significant part of any of the other readings we have done. Evolution is a very gradual process (in many cases but not all as we saw in Misguided Nostalgia) and it doesn’t make any sense to think of things as black and white, or in this case wolf and dog. There is always a gray, or dogwolf, area in between that is so often overlooked, and Derr picked up on this and used it as the backbone for developing his opinion of the origins of the dog.

In addition, in How the Dog Became the Dog, there was a reference to Buffon’s opinion that species tend to degenerate, not improve, from the parent form. I can see how the argument could be made because in many cases animals in captivity do lose some of the skills that made their ancestors more capable of survival in the wild. For example, the more wolf-like dogs are arguably more capable of survival than the little hairball lap dogs that are common today. But when I began to think about it, the only other examples of degeneracy that came to mind were of domesticated species. In the wild all species seem  to improve, likely due to the pressures of natural selection and survival of the fittest, which, to some extent deflates Buffon’s argument. However, in Misguided Nostalgia, Zuk talked about how we long for the past because we feel like times were better, but in you assume that this feeling was common in people throughout history, you eventually end up back as a single-celled organism. This idea would support Buffon as it suggests that we have slowly degenerated from that first single-celled organism that leads to what we are today. I guess where I am going with this topic is, is there some validity to Buffon’s theory that animals degenerate from the parent form or is there enough evidence in the study of wild animals evolution to disprove him?

Finally, in Misguided Nostalgia, Zuk brings up another interesting question when she mentions that there is an idea floating around that the relative isolation of countries like those in Africa from other places like North America may be leading to evolutionary developments in two separate directions. If this truly is occurring, which is very much up for debate, then we could potentially develop subspecies of humans, just like when a species of animal gets separated from its kin and develops differently as a result. What would be the result of a series of subspecies of humans? Would it result in the development of more capable humans, and if so would this result in the inferiority, or collapse, of the other species? Is speciation even possible in humans with all of the global connection that exists? Let me know what you think!

 

One thought on “The Mysteries of Evolution: From Dogs to Us

  1. Nothing is static. There are some who romance about the idea of living life today like our ancestors did in a particular past time. Are these thoughts too irrational to be actually achievable? Culture is dynamic and it stands to reason that any future way of life will evolve not from a perfect ideal of how it should be… (as you explained, if we go back too far we’re a single cell organism!) The culture that emerges in the future will come from today’s foundations and other relative social, political, economic, and environmental influences.

    Will this create a subspecies of humans? I have no idea. Maybe we have already seen this in the differences across cultures modern agriculturalist vs. hunter-gatherer society. There are lots of grey areas. What are our duties to domestic animals? is it different for wild animals? Welcome to the grey area. What should we be thinking about our lives today as we learn about the deep evolutionary history of domestic animals from multiple view points? Welcome to the grey area.

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