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is it possible to predict evolution?

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just wondering,  is it possible to predict evolution of a particular species?  if we know the evolutionary history of that species and are aware of the factors that contributed to it.

can scientists make accurate assumptions about the future of a species?  for example, is it possible to predict the next stages in human evolution?

Edited by boo

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Human get out from natural selection due to vaccines, modern medicine and very small rate of deaths prior reproduction age. In the past only the strongest (or wisest) survived and had offspring. Now almost everybody are able to have offspring, regardless of their built-in genetic illnesses or wisenesses, except per mil of population with very serious issues.

1 hour ago, boo said:

if we know the evolutionary history of that species and are aware of the factors that contributed to it.

History does not matter much in times when entire environment is influenced, damaged and polluted, by human.

1 hour ago, boo said:

just wondering,  is it possible to predict evolution of a particular species?

...can I predict extinction of species as an answer for your question.. ?

 

Edited by Sensei

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1 hour ago, boo said:

can scientists make accurate assumptions about the future of a species?  for example, is it possible to predict the next stages in human evolution?

Since evolutionary fitness depends on the environment that one is in, if you don't know the environment you can't possibly know what adaptations might be necessary.

And if you do know, you won't know what mutations will be present. You might, under some circumstances, be able to predict that an organism will adapt to a climate that is e.g. cooler or warmer (or not, and it will die out) but it's much harder to predict what specific genetic change will result in that adaptation. e.g. there are multiple ways to adapt to a colder environment, or to a shift in sources of food. You might not know which pathway a given species will follow.

 

Quote

just wondering,  is it possible to predict evolution of a particular species?  if we know the evolutionary history of that species and are aware of the factors that contributed to it

 

That will help, as it may eliminate certain possibilities.  

4 minutes ago, Sensei said:

Human get out from natural selection due to vaccines, modern medicine and very small rate of deaths prior reproduction age. In the past only the strongest (or wisest) survived and had offspring. Now almost everybody are able to have offspring, regardless of their built-in genetic illnesses or wiseness, except per mil of population with very serious issues.

History does not matter much in times when entire environment is influenced, damaged and polluted, by human.

Were human evolution or influence factors under discussion?

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14 hours ago, Sensei said:

Human get out from natural selection

really?

but dont humans still need to compete against eachother for natural selection?   it may be a slow process, but over time would have some effects.  it must have been a factor in our evolution up to this point aswell im sure

 

Edited by boo

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Human influence on evolution in some species can be predicted. Wild Fish populations tend to get smaller and smaller as individuals when fishermen put pressure on them by keeping the biggest ones. This results in smaller individuals becoming mature and reproducing causing the population to become composed of smaller fish. This was predicted and observed and is beginning to change fishery rules in some places. 

Is this what you were talking about? 

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15 hours ago, Sensei said:

Human get out from natural selection due to vaccines, modern medicine and very small rate of deaths prior reproduction age.

That may have changed and, in some cases reduced, some forces of selection but it certainly hasn't removed humans from natural selection.

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Precise predictions are generally only possible under fairly controlled conditions (such as e.g. within a lab).  Rough predictions are possible if there are a limited amount of known strong selective forces (such as Moontanman's example) but for more complex situations it is going to be difficult to impossible.

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Where genetic variants already exist within a population that give advantage under conditions that are predicted to become more common, then we might predict those variants will be more successful. Whether the variants that are disadvantaged will persist or be lost from the population could remain in question.

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23 hours ago, swansont said:

You might not know which pathway a given species will follow.

I agree. Examples just to illustrate:
If temperatures drop there are several very different potential successful outcomes:
-Adopt and stay; Thicker fur or stay underground in the winter for instance.
-Migrate permanently to warmer areas
-Move each season (migrating birds).

It could be hard even to model/predict what possible pathways there are. And even harder to find what parameters of today affects the future pathway. Or know what mutation or (small) change that would favour a completely different pathway. 

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13 minutes ago, Ghideon said:

I agree. Examples just to illustrate:
If temperatures drop there are several very different potential successful outcomes:
-Adopt and stay; Thicker fur or stay underground in the winter for instance.
-Migrate permanently to warmer areas
-Move each season (migrating birds).

It could be hard even to model/predict what possible pathways there are. And even harder to find what parameters of today affects the future pathway. Or know what mutation or (small) change that would favour a completely different pathway. 

Even that example is more complex than that. The model you are proposing contains one variable (i.e. reaction to temperature). But a temperature drop can create massive shifts in the environmental factors relevant for a given organisms. For example, food resources could become scarcer or more prevalent. Predatory pressures could change. Reproductive cycles may be different and so on. For each given species each of these pressures could be different. Some can easily switch to other prey/food. Others, may not. For some species predatory pressure may be a big shaping factor and if those increase or decrease it could massively affect the population. In others it may only be a secondary factor compared to food availability or intraspecies competition. It is easy to escalate complexity from a single factor, which makes prediction outside of simple systems very difficult.

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21 hours ago, CharonY said:

Even that example is more complex than that.

True! Your answer inspired me to read more and to slightly modify the original question into: Is evolution chaotic? Or, is there evidence that it prediction is impossible to model? Result: I found an interesting paper* discussing OPs questions. (bold by me)

Quote

Among the factors that may reduce the predictability of evolution, chaos, characterized by a strong dependence on initial conditions, has received much less attention than randomness due to genetic drift or environmental stochasticity. It was recently shown that chaos in phenotypic evolution arises commonly under frequency-dependent selection caused by competitive interactions mediated by many traits. This result has been used to argue that chaos should often make evolutionary dynamics unpredictable.

That seems to support prediction is not likely possible. But then:

Quote

However, populations also evolve largely in response to external changing environments, and such environmental forcing is likely to influence the outcome of evolution in systems prone to chaos. We show that strong environmental forcing can improve the predictability of evolution, by reducing the probability of chaos arising, and by dampening the magnitude of chaotic oscillations. In contrast, weak forcing can increase the probability of chaos, but it also causes evolutionary trajectories to track the environment more closely. Overall, our results indicate that, although chaos may occur in evolution, it does not necessarily undermine its predictability.

I wonder if the example provided by @Moontanman falls into the second category? Predictability is increased and possible due to the strong forces from fishing.

 

*) More at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5958977/#__ffn_sectitle. Plenty of references are listed, and as far as I can see all of them are available online, but some may be behind paywall. I do not possess the knowledge to evaluate the rigidity or correctness of the paper but it contains lots of interesting aspects and discussion connected to OPs question. I recommend taking a look at it. 

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2 hours ago, Ghideon said:

I wonder if the example provided by @Moontanman falls into the second category? Predictability is increased and possible due to the strong forces from fishing.

Yes indeed, that is what I was alluding to early. If there are known dominant forces, the system becomes less complex. I am not up to date regarding the different models in use, so I cannot really speak to the details without reading the lit, but many of these models are also based on assumptions that reduce complexity relative to actual biological systems. The reasons for that is that these simplifications are needed to create mathematical model with which the effects of certain parameters on the system can be tested. It does not mean we can use that and accurately model an actual population with any level of accuracy. 

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I think that on evolutionary time-scales, we are right on the brink of a fundamental change in human evolution. Evolution by natural selection is in it's final years. It's nearly gone in most countries already, because in those countries, most humans live long enough to reproduce.

It's getting replaced with evolution by human selection. At the moment, that involves some people deciding to have lots of children, and at the other end of the scale, others deciding to have none, or just one. So at the moment, evolution is drifting very slightly towards the kind of people who choose to have more children, if there is such a type.  

But in the very near future, human selection will get a lot more intrusive, with the progress being made in genetics. Already, they are working on eliminating genetic disorders, but in the very near future (in evolutionary terms) people will be opting for taller fitter better-looking offspring made to order in the genes lab. 

So the human race is destined to look more and more like me. ☺️

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3 minutes ago, mistermack said:

I think that on evolutionary time-scales, we are right on the brink of a fundamental change in human evolution. Evolution by natural selection is in it's final years. It's nearly gone in most countries already, because in those countries, most humans live long enough to reproduce.

It's getting replaced with evolution by human selection. At the moment, that involves some people deciding to have lots of children, and at the other end of the scale, others deciding to have none, or just one. So at the moment, evolution is drifting very slightly towards the kind of people who choose to have more children, if there is such a type.  

But in the very near future, human selection will get a lot more intrusive, with the progress being made in genetics. Already, they are working on eliminating genetic disorders, but in the very near future (in evolutionary terms) people will be opting for taller fitter better-looking offspring made to order in the genes lab.

I don't think you appreciate the concept of time scales, or evolution for that matter; I can predict bacteria will develope anti-biotic resistance over a few days/weeks/months/years because I've seen it in the lab/news.

But let's shift the order of magnitude appropriate to humans, can you predict human survival over the next century/millenia/etc?

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2 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

I don't think you appreciate the concept of time scales

Why? 

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I'm sure T-rex didn't imagine it would evolve into a humming bird.

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3 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

I'm sure T-rex didn't imagine it would evolve into a humming bird.

It didn't. 

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1 minute ago, mistermack said:

It didn't. 

Couldn't...

No doubt you've missed the point.

 

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An asteroid put paid to any chance of further evolution of T Rex.

But his little cousins managed to hang on, to eventually evolve into hillbilly fried chicken. 

Same thing could happen to us, but in our case, the species would survive a similar impact, even if we lost huge numbers. A much bigger impact might finish us off though.

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1 minute ago, mistermack said:

An asteroid put paid to any chance of further evolution of T Rex.

Exactly.

2 minutes ago, mistermack said:

Same thing could happen to us, but in our case, the species would survive a similar impact, even if we lost huge numbers.

Point well missed.

FFS we're not special, in any way, we're just an expression of life, but given enough time we won't be.

 

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40 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

FFS we're not special, in any way, we're just an expression of life, but given enough time we won't be.

You couldn't have got it more wrong. We are special, in comparison to ALL other life on earth, in that we can intelligently alter our environment. Whether you regard that as a good or bad thing is irrelevant. No other creature gets anywhere near what we can do. And the pace of change is incredible, compared to the past. If you compare the last 100 years to the previous 100 years, it's like a different planet. 

You say that given enough time we won't be, you have no way of knowing that. In any case, "given enough time" is irrelevant. Does the eventual heat death of the Universe have any relevance to us today? It's the present and the near future that counts.

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2 minutes ago, mistermack said:

You couldn't have got it more wrong. We are special, in comparison to ALL other life on earth, in that we can intelligently alter our environment.

You're going to have to define intelligently in this context. ;)

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1 minute ago, dimreepr said:

You're going to have to define intelligently in this context. ;)

That should be obvious.

It's whatever I would do. 👌

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1 minute ago, mistermack said:

That should be obvious.

It is.

2 minutes ago, mistermack said:

It's whatever I would do. 👌

But not for that reason. :doh:

 

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1 hour ago, mistermack said:

You couldn't have got it more wrong. We are special, in comparison to ALL other life on earth, in that we can intelligently alter our environment. Whether you regard that as a good or bad thing is irrelevant. No other creature gets anywhere near what we can do. And the pace of change is incredible, compared to the past. If you compare the last 100 years to the previous 100 years, it's like a different planet. 

How does intelligence play into it? Photosynthetic organisms have changed the planet in a far larger scale than we could (because if we enact  a change  on a similar scale we would die, in contrast to bacteria). Where I would agree is the pace. But it is always problematic to take one aspect and claim it to be special over everything else (even if it is important). 

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