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Environment and Special Topics in Evolution

Policy makers often consider how we can be stewards for the environment. Up until recently, the answer has been to destroy everything and hope that Bruce Willis saves us. As mentioned in the themes section, humans are responsible for mass extinction of numerous species of life. What is our role to preserve biodiversity?

Should the government promote preservation of species? If so, what species should we preserve? At what point does preservation of the species become a waste of money?

The preservation of the giant panda may be a perfect example of an organism facing extinction that is extremely costly. Millions of dollars are spent breeding pandas and preserving their habitat. This is all at the expense of species living in other biodiversity hotspots that are being destroyed. Despite what the movies might have you believe, none of those pandas ever learned kung fu.

Many scientists argue that the once-meat-loving pandas evolved to a bamboo-only diet because they feared competition from other predators. They sought refuge in the bamboo-rich vegetation of the mountains of China. There, they had to either learn to love the ample bamboo that nothing eats, or stay and scrap it out with the other animals.

Unfortunately, pandas are not adapted to live off of bamboo. They have to eat about half their weight in bamboo a day just to survive. Because they're so inefficient, all they can do is sit around, eat, and poop. Pandas poop about 40 times a day. Seriously. That doesn't leave a lot of time for mating. Since they have so few offspring, they are dying off as a species. Added to this is the human destruction of their habitat.

They might be expensive to keep around, but they are so cute. One would argue that adaptations making species "cute" leads to better survival, since humans try to preserve species. If you look at the World Wildlife Fund's website, many endangered species listed are generally cute and cuddly. They even use the panda as their logo.

The development of cuteness is an evolutionary adaptation in higher animals. It ensures that animal parents will take care of their offspring. This is why most baby animals are considered cute. Species that people consider to be "cute" will have a fitness advantage because we will try to protect them. We could call this "cuteness" selection. Meanwhile, there are no qualms over insect genocide.

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