Nautilus

The Rhythm of the Tide

Standing deep inside the archives of the Roman Catholic Church’s Canadian headquarters, it suddenly struck me that this was an odd place to find evidence that people are still evolving.

That human evolution has continued into modern times was, until recently, a mostly theoretical idea debated among experts because there simply was no data. But as an evolutionary biologist, I had my own perspective. My research has mostly been on ants, which are common and diverse, making them ideal subjects for understanding evolutionary processes. In some ways ants and humans have a lot in common. Leafcutter ants create enormous underground nests that house millions of individuals, each with specialized tasks—not unlike our cities. They grow their own food in the form of a fungus that they domesticated from wild ancestors, much like human farmers. Ants even use antibiotics to treat diseases. I knew that these characteristics had not buffered them from natural selection, so why should we humans be any different?

Then in 2011, I read a study suggesting that small evolutionary changes had taken place among people living as recently as the 19th and 20th centuries.1 I decided that I had to go see the evidence for myself, so I arranged to visit the tiny Quebec island of Ile aux Coudres in the St. Lawrence River. Here was a chance to glimpse firsthand how our very recent evolutionary past meets our present.


The study leader, Emmanuel Milot, met me in the arrival area of Montreal’s Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau airport wearing a black T-shirt with a white Jesus fish emblazoned with the word “DARWIN,” leaving little doubt that he was a fellow evolutionary biologist. After a short driving tour of downtown Montreal, we ducked into a microbrewery in the historical district to escape a sudden downpour that made the cobblestone streets glow yellow with light reflected from the streetlamps.

Milot told me how he had started out working as a field research assistant surveying birds in remote parts of Quebec, before pursuing doctoral work on the wandering albatross in the Kerguelen Islands, a rugged French outpost in the southern Indian Ocean near Antarctica. The wandering albatross is an iconic species for bird enthusiasts, and Milot described his project

Estás leyendo una vista previa, regístrate para leer más.

Más de Nautilus

Nautilus9 min. leídos
Homo Narrativus And The Trouble With Fame: We think that fame is deserved. We are wrong.
Our understanding of fame is critical to how we see each other and our society. But it is also badly wrong. Let me tell you why. We humans are storytelling and story-finding machines: homo narrativus, if you will. In making sense of the world, we loo
Nautilus14 min. leídos
Language Both Enraptures and Deceives Us: An interview with linguist and writer Julie Sedivy.
The purpose of language is to reveal the contents of our minds, says Julie Sedivy. It’s a simple and profound insight. We are social animals and language is what springs us from our isolated selves and connects us with others. Sedivy has taught lingu
Nautilus4 min. leídosScience
Mind the Gap Between Science and Religion
Have you heard that we may be living in a computer simulation? Or that our universe is only one of infinitely many parallel worlds in which you live every possible variation of your life? Or that the laws of nature derive from a beautiful, higher-dim