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Evolution in Three Parts: This post is mostly about dogs

This is the first in a three part series designed to help the average Joe understand what evolution is, what evolution isn’t, and how evolution works.

darwin doodle

I could start at the very beginning of this journey with Charles Darwin‘s adventure on the HMS Beagle, but I don’t really think that starting with Darwin is the best approach.

Instead, I would like to lead you, the reader, on a series of thought exercises. I’ll talk you through some things that you already know to be true, and build on them to create what I would call an at least introductory understanding and working knowledge of the single most important theory in the understanding of life.

Evolution is defined as change in the heritable traits of biological populations over successive generations. I’ll repeat this a few times and be really obnoxious about it, so continue at your own risk.

Dogs: There are so many breeds of domesticated dogs, and the amount of diversity observed in dogs is astounding. Dogs are bred and selected for traits that are desirable like brains, brawn, size, temperament, and speed.


Change in the heritable traits of biological populations over successive generations

I’m just gonna make this bigger every time I need to remind you about it.

What if I told you that they were all descended from a population of grey wolves thousands of years ago?

grey wolves

It’s absolutely mind-boggling, but happened. We know from analyzing the DNA of modern dogs, that there is no evidence that any wild canines other than grey wolves contributed to the pool of domesticated dogs (in case any of you were wondering about other kinds of wild canines like coyotes, jackals, etc).

It’s a simple idea, really. You start with a parent population and just keep the ones with traits that you want like minimal aggressiveness, protectiveness, and size, and breed them together until you no longer encounter the traits that you don’t want.

The continuation of this method over the thousands of years that dogs have been man’s best friend resulted in the diversity that we see today.

Apply this model to domesticated crops like corn, tomatoes, grapes, bananas, watermelon, eggplant, carrots, and peaches.  Look at this wild banana!

original banana

Also, reluctantly because I hate them, we domesticated and selectively bred cats. That’s all im going to say about that.

evil cat


Change in the heritable traits of biological populations over successive generations

So, Aunt Charity, look at your bulldog, Lurch, next time that he falls asleep on your lap, and tell him to be proud! He hails from a long line of apex predators.

Wait a minute, TJ, you haven’t said a single thing about natural selection, survival of the fittest, or monkeys. Also, this was all man-made change! Sure these are heritable traits we’ve selected for, but that doesn’t explain it happening in nature!

I’ll get there, but like any big, heavy structure, you need a foundation to build on. I wanted to cover some basic, agreeable truths before I talked about the monkey stuff.

Until next time, go be brilliant, ask questions, get answers, and science!

Categories Biology

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