Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Salamander Conundrum

I am lifting this post pretty much in its entirety because is reflects the way political concepts have distorted academic thinking in the sciences.

Hybrid Vehicle: A strange duck sent in a link to this story about hybridization between a native and introduced salamander in California. The interaction between the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) and Eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) is not news in itself (the ISW pointed to research on the subject back in 2003) - Eastern tiger salamanders established in California following the use of their larvae as bait for the past several decades. But now new evidence indicates that the hybrid offspring exhibit what is known as "hybrid vigor" - they are more fit than either parent species.

That certainly doesn't bode well for the endangered California species, whose populations were already on the decline. The researchers are concerned that the greater fitness of the hybrids could lead to the eventual loss of the California species, as over time crossing of hybrids with parent species (and other hybrids) leads to permanent integration of non-native genes into all tiger salamanders in the region.

What is wrong with this? The answer lies in the environmentalist need for the effects of humans to be considered detrimental and the existence of nature to be static. The central tenet of our modern understanding of the biological world is the reality of change of time, through the reproductive competition between short living individual organisms. Over millions of years the specific sets of genes that yield the most successful critters are preserved and amplified.

If the University of Massachusetts will award a Ph.D. in Environmental Biology to individuals viewing hybrid vigor as undesirable when the “hybrid vehicle” arrives with human assistance, it is sign the student is taught that people are somehow not fully normal integrated parts of the biologic world. It baffles me that an example of how evolution works causes a biologist to react as if there is something abnormal occurring.