Curl up and die already, HuffPo

Jebus, but I despise that fluffy, superficial, Newagey site run by the flibbertigibbet Ariana. I will not be linking to it, but if you must, you can just search for this recent article: “Darwin May Have Been WRONG, New Study Argues”. I don’t recommend it. It sucks. Read the title, and you’ve already got the false sensationalism of the whole story down cold.

It’s actually an old and familiar story that doesn’t upset any applecarts at all. There is a well-known concept in evolutionary theory of an adaptive radiation: a lineage acquires a new trait (birds evolve flight, for instance), or an extinction removes all competition and creates an opportunity for expansion (the dinosaurs are wiped out and mammals expand rapidly into vacant niches), and presto, new species and diversity abounds. For a really obvious example of this phenomenon, look to Darwin’s finches: one or a few species are storm-blown to an isolated chain of islands, and they gradually speciate to take on many roles.

See? No shock, no strike against evolution, or even against Darwin’s version of evolution. To claim otherwise is simply stupid.

Now the paper in question seeks to quantify the expansion of taxonomic diversity with the appearance of large-scale ecological opportunities, and concludes that competition and refinement by natural selection has not been the major driver of diversification, but that reason we have thousands of species of mammals and even more species of birds is more a consequence of chance and opportunity than strong competition. It’s a reasonable result, but not cause for a revolution; lots of us have been advocating for the importance of chance in evolution for many years, and it’s unsurprising that non-selective mechanisms of evolution will generate new diversity from a single species in an open, competition free field.

Bugger the awful Huffpo. One of the scientists, Sarda Sahney, has a nice blog with a sensible discussion of the paper. Read that instead.