By Shira Gould || Staff Writer
This week’s Common Hour was given by J. Albert C. Uy, a biology professor at the University of Miami. He spoke about climate change, the process of evolution, and the benefits of having diversity within a species. According to Uy, science is not enough to reverse the effects of climate change, but rather, applied science is necessary. He did research in the Solomon Islands in order to see the effects of mixed breeding in achieving diversity, and in turn continuing evolution.
Uy began his talk by outlining the logic behind evolution. He said that diversity allows an organism to exploit its environment. For example, there is diversity in communication and food needs, which then leads to survival. The question which guided his research was the way in which diversity happens, and how it continues. According to Uy, there have been five mass extinctions in the past four billion years. The most famous one, he asserts, was the extinction of the dinosaurs. Most scientists agree that we are heading straight into the sixth one, which would be entirely different from the last five because humans are the ones that are causing it. The current environmental climate is increasing the rate by which various species are becoming extinct.
Uy discussed Charles Darwin, who was the first scientist to explain evolution in terms of natural selection. According to Uy, Darwin went to the Galapagos Islands and noticed that birds who looked similar to one another had small discrepancies in appearance throughout the area. He postulated that the birds were of the same family, but were different due to small mutations. Darwin’s theory of natural selection states that individuals in any given population are variable, and that some species do better than others. Those who survive, mate, resulting in a new species.
Uy studied the bellied flycatchers in the Solomon Islands, which are located in the South Pacific coast of New Guinea. The birds feed on insects, are socially homogenous, and are variable in the Solomon Islands. Uy noticed that the birds with different colored stomachs also sang different songs. One type of bird had a chestnut colored belly and another had a black belly. Uy wanted to test how the black bellied birds would react to the chestnut bellied birds, and found that birds with bellies of the same color tended to become more aggressive to one another than to those with different colored bellies. Uy hypothesized that this was a result of competition in mating. Uy then wanted to determine the cause for difference in color, and what would happen if the colors were mixed. He found that breeding a black-bellied bird with a chestnut-bellied bird resulted in a bird with a mixed-colored stomach. He also found that there are 70,000 genetic markers, and that one gene can begin an entirely new species.
Uy concluded his talk by discussing the loss of tropical forests due to logging. Logging causes damage to lagoons, rivers and forests, which causes a drastic and rapid loss in wildlife in those areas. Additionally, because carbon dioxide contributes to climate change, Uy asserts it is important to change the perspective of those who continue to lobby for logging, to donate money to research, and to focus on conserving energy.
First-year Shira Gould is a staff writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.