Nature Notes: Variety, the Spice of Life

Over many millenniums new species beget newer species

   It’s a mixed up world, that’s for sure. There are some who have the point of view that world ethnic groups, world languages, world religions, and world nations shouldn’t be mixed up and homogenized in the same melting pot. Others say it’s inevitable, why fight it? The human being is one of the few species that is racing toward one cosmopolitan worldwide identity.
    Such happened in a few highly mobile species long ago. The osprey looks the same whether observed in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, South America, or North America. Hundreds of plant species have been distributed throughout each of the same six continents by hook or by crook. A few made it on their own, most had the help of humans. If a plant or animal species is in its place of origin, the plant or animal is considered native; elsewhere it is most likely “introduced.” Plants such as the dandelion from Eurasia are most often known as weeds elsewhere. In America there is a huge industry combining manufacturing and application services to root them out of lawns and gardens.
    Plant and insect species are breaking down the distinctions between one country’s flora and fauna and those of another much faster than humans immigrate and emigrate. There is a big difference, however, between the two types of blending. Plant species mostly breed with their own. Insects always breed with their own. Thus their genetic lines, except for mutations here and there, hold relatively steady.
    It’s folly to try to stop it. The European royalty thought they had it all figured out. They’d preserve the very highest couture by the application of selective breeding. It worked well for thoroughbred horses and pedigreed dogs, why not for kings and queens, dukes and earls, and the rest of them? Such selective breeding applied to royalty produced many good and wise leaders, but just as many miscreants.
    Whether one believes in a divine presence or personage, evolution and natural selection, or both, or some other all-encompassing theory, the simple fact is that there are many, many more entities in this world that are different than ones that are the same. New species are discovered every day, especially among the smaller organisms. Many of the new forms, such as in viruses and bacteria, are called strains. They differ from the parent species in one or two aspects, but are otherwise quite similar.
    Over many millenniums new species beget newer species. It has been such since the dawn of creation. Scientists are quite certain that the number of distinct forms of plants, animals, protists, and suborganisms extant throughout the world today is only a fraction of the billions that existed previously. No matter how much inbreeding there is, differences keep multiplying. In other words, the more things stay the same the more they actually change.
    You can change the composition, say, the texture, of the local flora and fauna by swamping them with imports. That is exactly what has happened in the Hawaiian Islands. But, the door’s been open so long now that there’s much too much to cull. We applaud when bald eagles come back to Long Island to nest after a 75-year absence. And most of us enjoy the wild turkeys, which didn’t come back on their own but were reintroduced.
    We don’t mind so much the invasion from the south occurring throughout the last half century that resulted in a host of now familiar birds such as the cardinal, mockingbird, titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker, blue-gray gnatcatcher, summer tanager, Carolina wren, boat-tailed grackle, oystercatcher, willet, turkey vulture, Chuck-Will’s-Widow, and fish crow.
    And just lately, blue grosbeaks and fork-tailed flycatchers have been dodging the immigration officers. They’re sure to start enclaves here, as well, in the next 10 or 20 years. Uh oh, but what about the armada of Portuguese man-of-war en route, and didn’t someone just photograph a coyote in Water Mill?
    Yes, there is a downside to all of this variety and flux of organisms coming and going. For every new colorful bird, dragonfly, ridley turtle, or cloudless sulphur butterfly to come our way, there is sure to be a lone star tick, chigger, brown recluse spider, or Asian tiger mosquito to match it.