Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Undiscovered Species

Not sure what triggered this post, but as you will see it is something I think about regularly. It may have originally been in an eye-opening attempt for God-of-the-Gap type argument’s proponents, with particular reference to attacks on the incomplete fossil record.

I’ve always said that it is dangerous turf to sit on considering it continually gets torn off.

Only a very few organisms that die end up preserved as fossils, but these lucky finds have led to instances where we have a number of fossils over many years that show small, gradual changes between each one. Again, this is not the only example, there are many examples of fossils from different time periods that show a gradual, incremental change to their phenotype; just take the most famous fossil of them all, the Archaeopteryx – the bird/reptile, with feathers! However, what paleontology cannot provide is a perfect set of transitional fossils for every single fossil that we do have, and this is what creationist advocates jump on.

What percentage of the earths crust do you actually think we have searched for fossils? I would bet under 0.01% of it, and I am being extremely conservative.

The vast numbers of fossils that are in the ground just waiting to be discovered is nicely demonstrated by the fact we haven’t even discovered all the species alive on this planet, in this day and age – by a long way. Now the usual suspects to fill these criteria are plants found in remote areas, however this is not always the case. Just last November, a 4ft long mammalian pig-like creature was discovered in the Amazon forest in Brazil! If we can’t discover living fossils running around on all fours plain for us to see, I have no idea how we will find every deeply hidden fossil!

Now I couldn’t find evidence in a 2-minute search for the mammalian pig; however, I found a few examples to illustrate my point. Take this 700g elephant shrew or perhaps this pygmy possum and giant rat.

Ok ok - so what are a few isolated incidents? Sorry but this sea life search or perhaps 11 new species in Vietnam and even thousands of new species found around an island 400 miles off Manila in the Philippines might prove that although they are found in generally isolated places, the world has a million isolated places. Don't trust me - search for yourself, all these instances were from the last few months and from a very limited source. I didn't even tell you about the giant 9-foot spitting cobra, either.

I would personally guestimate that over a million undiscovered species inhabit this planet with us. What greater meaning this has for us I am still contemplating. Perhaps millions of new medicines? But it is a well advocated estimation that over 99.9% of all the species that have ever lived are now extinct - so why should we care if a few more pass away unnoticed?

Perhaps because we are the cause of this mankind-led extinction. We have all read about the mass extinction of the dinosaurs by a meteorite (whether we believe it or not), but fewer of us realise we are currently in another mass extinction, caused by you and I, and at over 1000 times the background rate - the normal extinction rate.

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