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BBC – Future – Strange Evolution: The Weird Future of Life on Earth

In the early 1980s, author Dagle Dixon published a cult book titled "After Man: a Zoology of the Future," which depicts life for millions of years. Dixon planned masters who used their queues like parachutes, flying apes (or "flunkeys"), over-long wounded snakes that struck birds in the middle of the flight, night bundles that beat their prey with long spines on their chest, and flower face birds and bats that fool pollinate insects in landing in their hungry mouth. Nonsense that uses their queues like parachutes, flying monkeys … or birds and bats with a colored face

Decades later, Dixon says his book is not an attempt to predict the future, but rather a study. of all the possibilities of the natural world. "Books on evolution at a popular level, though not deliberate, seem to suggest that evolution is something that has happened in the past," he says. "That's not the case at all. Today, evolution is happening, it will continue to happen a lot in the future long after we've gone. "

While Dixon's book is a fiction, most biologists agree that millions of years from the current Earth will be a very different place. "I think it will look and feel like an alien planet," says Athina Aktipis, an evolutionary biologist at Arizona State University.

Whatever progresses, it will feel strange and unlikely to us today-just as our current mammalian-dominated world would seem unbelievable in terms of the era of dinosaurs. So how would life look like in the future? Which creatures could develop, say, 1

00 million years, given what we know about Earth's life and the principles of evolution?

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Let's start with an increase of millions of years to a much earlier era on our planet. In the Cambrian explosion, about 540 million years ago, the Earth was populated by a whole host of "strange" and "animated" beings, according to Jonathan Lassos, an evolutionary biologist at Washington University in St. Louis. Shale [in Canada] was inhabited by a real betcharius of the strange, "he wrote in his book" Amazing Fates: Destiny, Chance and the Future of Evolution. " An animal, Hallucigenia with the thin, tube-like body, covered with rows of huge spines, and stick-like appendages, was "like something from a Furama episode."

it is not impossible for such strange and unusual beings to develop in the future. "Everything you can imagine has evolved somewhere at some point in some species," says Losos. "Given enough time, even the incredible will eventually happen."

According to Losos, the world of biological capabilities is enormous and perhaps we have not seen everything yet. "On the one hand, I am not at all convinced that life on Earth has discovered every possible way of existence on a planet like ours or even most roads," he writes.

However, it is difficult to predict which of these opportunities we can get. The book of Losos analyzes the arguments for and against the predictability of evolution: the question of whether the story will repeat itself if we want to "repeat the lifeblood." The evidence is divided and we simply do not know to what extent evolution is predictable and repetitive for long periods of time. Add to this element of chance – a huge volcanic eruption or an asteroid striking the Earth, and solid predictions become almost impossible.

However, we can make educated assumptions.

First, however, we must pay attention to the impact of a great evolutionary force that is already transforming life on a global scale: Homo sapiens .

We can see the evolution of the bird beak specializing in canning

people thrive millions of years, they will have a significant effect on future evolution, and natural selection will produce new varieties of life to deal with the changed and possibly polluted environments we create. "We can see the development of cane bird beak or rats that develop oily skin to weaken toxic wastewater," writes Peter Ward, paleontologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, in his 2001 book Future Evolution

Ward provides opportunities for new types of species that have "weedy" qualities – tough, adaptable beings who are not interested in people's habits and can use their own world, such as domestic cats, rats, raccoons. , coyotes, crows, pigeons, starlings, sparrows, flies, fleas, ticks and intestinal parasites

On warmer and dry Earth, warmed by humans, the lack of fresh water can also cause new adaptations. "I present animals that will develop strange specializations to catch moisture from the air," says Patricia Brennan, an evolutionary biologist at Mount Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. "Larger animals can develop things like elongated canvases or skin flaps that may spread early in the morning to try to catch moisture. The spiked collars of some lizards, for example, could become very large and exaggerated to collect water in this way. "

In a hotter world, Brennan also predicts the erection of nude mammals and birds:" Mammals can lose skin in some patches and collect water in the pockets of the skin. In a warming planet, endothermic animals [those that generate their own heat] may have difficulty, so birds in a warmer climate can lose contour feathers to prevent overheating, and mammals can lose most coats. "

Future people can also decide to manipulate life directly – in fact, it is already happening. As researcher Lauren Holt wrote about the BBC Future Deep Civilization series earlier this year, a trajectory for Earth's life may be "post-natural." In this scenario, genetic engineering, biotechnology, and the influence of human culture can redirect evolution down radically different pathways, from mosquitoes that contain gene drives to mechanical drones-pollinators. The evolution of life will be intertwined with the wishes and needs of mankind.

However, there are alternative paths for future evolution: for example, our more enlightened descendants may decide to rethink nature and allow natural evolution to continue its path, or people may disappear (which is the scenario of "After Man" ).

Extinction can lead to intelligent evolutionary innovations. Essentially, mass extinction returns the evolutionary clock, Ward argues. After previous massive disappearances, he says terrestrial plants and animals have changed radically.

The disappearance of the plains, about 252 million years ago, has eliminated over 95% of marine and 70% of terrestrial species, including finches covered with fins, and massive mammals like reptiles that ruled the Earth at that time. For dinosaurs, space for the development and capture of the dominant terrestrial animals has been created, a result that is perhaps unlikely and unexpected as the capture of the mammals when they replaced the dinosaurs after the mass extinction of the Cretaceous and Tertiary.

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"Not just turnover, but what we could call" shift, "" writes Ward. "Massive disappearances are more than the change in the number of species on Earth. They have also changed the structure of the Earth. "

After some extinction, some biologists believe that whole new forms of life with new abilities are possible to develop; so different that we can not even imagine how they could be. For the first billion years of Earth's life, for example, oxygen-breathing animals would have been unthinkable, as oxygen was in short supply and the cells did not develop to use it for energy. This has changed forever with the Great Oxidation Event some 2.4 billion years ago when the arrival of photosynthetic bacteria led to the first mass disappearance of the Earth. "Microbes have caused the planet to have oxygen, and that creates enormous change," says Leonora Bittelleston, an evolutionary biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There are many innovations that may have been difficult to predict before they happened – but once they start happening, they are changing our planet."

So, if people die, how wild and complex can things get millions of years from now? Can we see trees that start walking or feasting with animals after they kill them with toxic fumes or poisonous arrows? Can marine life be changed by spiders taking water by using their nets for nets while fish learn to fly to feed insects and birds? Is it possible for deep-sea animals to project bright holograms with them to deceive predators, attract prey or impress potential partners? Perhaps the mosquitoes and catfish will regain their ancestral ability to move on land so they can hunt more effectively on the shore?

If people die, how wild and complex can things get? Can we also see the organisms reside in hitherto unexplored habitats: for example, giant, light poisonous mushrooms drifting in the middle of the air like air jellyfing, entangling and swallowing all they face? Or can insects and spiders build silk nests in the clouds and feed on photosynthetic organisms in the sky? And if plants or microbes develop something like solar panels to trace and concentrate sunlight, can green oases of life flourish on cold glaciers?

None of these fantastic creatures sounds impossible, says Aktipis. Many are based on what already exists in nature: there are marine and sliding spiders, microbial life in the clouds, and deep sea fishermen who hang bioluminescent beads in front of them to attract prey. Some poppies and catfish populations can sail to hunt animals on the shore, and small independent oases of life thrive on ice where there are remnants of cryoconite, a black powder made of soot, rocks and microbes.

Jo Wolfe Evolutionary biologist at Harvard University notes that some trees are able to walk very slowly as they move to water sources and believes that trees can develop to hunt for poisonous gases or even spikes. After all, we already have carnivorous plants like the Venus fly. She also points out the existence of fish-eating spiders and says that microbes inhabiting the clouds could develop from the many small organisms known as Prochlorococcus who live in the uppermost layers of the ocean. In nature, unusual adaptations for extreme conditions are often required. The Earth already has many, and it will not change. For example, think about how the male marine devil responds to the severe shortage of potential deep ocean partners. When he meets a woman, he actually merges with his body. "It's so unlikely he'll ever meet another woman who just surrenders and become a sperm accessory for her," says Christine Hook, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Maryland, College Park. "So, we can see the animals do more like this, and over time I will imagine that selection is in favor of animals that can self-handle when finding friends is almost impossible." I suppose future creatures will remain limited to their current habitats. Lynn Kaperale, a biochemist and author, points out that some "flying" fish can already catch insects (and even birds), and some fish can go on land even if they climb the trees. Even squid fly from time to time over the surface of the ocean, using jets of water like propulsion and fins that double up like wings.

Imagine a frog that turns into a "zelepinoid," a new species of floating animal that conquers the underlying atmosphere

the potential for switching habitats leads to some pretty fantastic possibilities. Think of a frog whose esophagus swells out like a large gas bag used to make mating. In his book, Ward playfully predicts it to become a "zelepinoid," a new kind of floating animal that will conquer the lower atmosphere. The frog could evolve to remove hydrogen from the water and store it in his throat, helping her to jump and eventually swim in the air. His legs – no longer necessary for walking – can become hanging tentacles for eating and will develop to avoid eating them – perhaps even bigger than a blue whale. Giant slopers floated in the air like jellyfish, dragging tentacles to catch prey as a deer and grazing on the tops of the trees. They will fill the sky and their shifting shadows will dominate the landscape – the age of the flying frog.

Cepelinoids, Ward says, are "a fairytale – but there is a glimpse of reality in this fable." Once there was the first flying organism and the first swimming organism, and we know that more species are growing rapidly, as innovation allows them to capture a habitat they never had access to before.

Given that our understanding of evolution and genetics is incomplete, and that it is likely to depend on casual events, no one can know for sure what future life will be. Selecting the evolutionary winners in the future is like trying to pick the winners of the stock market or forecast the weather, Ward writes. We have some data to make educated assumptions, but also a great deal of uncertainty. "Colors, habits and forms of newly-developed fauna can only be known."

Losos agrees. "At the end of the day," he says, "the possibilities are so broad and uncertain that it really is pointless to try to speculate about how life may look like – there are just too many degrees of freedom." Life can go on very different ways. "

But if the strangeness of today's life is a leader, we must not deny the possibility that future evolution could descend on some truly amazing paths. ] Really Dixon remarked suggests that some of the original "purely speculative" creations described in the book "After Man" in 1981 were subsequently discovered: for example, walking bats and snakes that can catch bats from the air. the book of 2018: "It's very time when I came across some new ecological or evolutionary development and I thought," If I had put it in "After Man," everyone would laugh. "

Mico Tatalovic is a freelance journalist and tweets @MTatalovic

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