charles Darwin, hunting and evolution, hunting Darwinism
The Bozeman Chronicle, Erik Petersen/AP
A pair of Bighorn sheep feed.

Hunters Causing Unnatural Selection in “Trophy” Animals

January 08, 2009 11:59 AM
by Cara McDonough
In a strange twist on Darwin’s evolutionary principle, the biggest and strongest animals are not necessarily the fittest for survival, due to years of hunting.

For Hunted Animals, Smaller May Be Better

A hunter’s desire is often to come home with the biggest animal. But that goal is becoming more elusive, as many hunted animals have conformed to a new definition of the “fittest” of species, putting a new spin on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

When hunting is the biggest threat to a species, “the unsought, middling individuals make out better than the alpha animals, and the species changes,” according to a story in Newsweek on the changing face of evolution in relation to hunting.

In other words, when hunters kill the biggest, strongest, and best specimens of an animal, its smaller, weaker brethren are the ones left to procreate and pass on their genes to the next generation of the species.

In a population of bighorn sheep in Alberta, Canada, for instance, a 30-year study found a 25 percent decline in the size of the male sheep’s horns. While male sheep with the biggest horns have traditionally been the “fittest” of that species—being larger and producing larger offspring—they must also survive a two-month hunting season. Thus, the sheep with smaller horns, less desired by hunters, have emerged as the “strongest” in the group.

The idea of “reverse evolutionism” is not new, reports LiveScience. Researchers have noted that hunting has resulted in smaller Kodiak bears in Alaska over the years, and even tuskless elephants in Africa.

Background: Charles Darwin and “The Origin of Species”

Charles Darwin, who shared his theory of natural selection with the world in his book “Origin of Species,” developed his famous idea while working in the Galapagos Islands in South America in the 1830s.

While visiting each island, Darwin observed species that were similar, in some respects, to those he saw on the last island, but differed in varying ways. He developed the theory of natural selection as a way of describing why species change over time, concluding that the fittest of a species will eventually become the most dominant.

“The Origin of Species” was first published on Nov. 24, 1859. Despite the fact that natural selection is now a widely accepted scientific theory, the book remains controversial to this day, because many people find its theory of evolution to be in direct opposition to the traditional religious belief of creationism.

Related Topic: Other changes in animal species

Besides the changes hunting is causing, other major changes may be occurring in the animal species, according to recent studies.

In October 2008, a five-year survey found that about half of the world’s animal species are in decline, and more than 1,100 face extinction. The study found that many of the species were in danger because of human actions. Marine animals were found to be most at risk, with one in three in danger of disappearing.

But there are positive advances, as well. A new type of snake discovered in Barbados in August of last year demonstrates the fact that new species are developing, even as others disappear.

Reference: Guide to hunting


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