Biodiversity Pearls

Cell biologist Bruce Lipton suggests that Charles Darwin may have been wrong about evolutionary gradualism. In a 1972 controversial paper, paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Steven Jay Gould proposed that evolution occurs in spurts (“sudden jumps”) and introduced their Punctuated Equilibrium theory. Eldredge/Gould argued that species have relative equilibrium until their development is “punctuated” by rapid change. Since I am not qualified to argue one way or the other, I wonder if there is any middle ground here. After all, we are addressing grounded fossil “facts.”

What is fascinating about Punctuated Equilibrium is that some “spurts” certainly affected evolution; they are labeled Mass Extinction Events. The most recent Event occurring 66 million years ago. Believed to be caused by an asteroid terrifying the Yucatan Peninsula, reportedly 75% of life forms disappeared, including exciting dinosaurs who had dominated every continent (including Antarctica) for 200 million years. Perhaps you gave up your fascination with dinosaurs after childhood, but I remain keenly interested, especially about their disappearance. Does anyone (other than 8-year-olds and me) care about losing dinosaurs? I have many unanswered questions. Did dinosaurs get Alzheimer’s?

Nicklas Brendborg, a Ph.D. student of molecular biology at the University of Copenhagen (Jellyfish Age Backwards: Nature’s Secrets to Longevity), writes about species who defy expectations. Mice get cancer but not Alzheimer’s disease. A tiny jellyfish, Turritopsis, has the uncanny ability when stressed–by hunger or sudden water temperature changes–to become a younger version of itself! It ages backwards. Mysteriously, this jellyfish evolves to adulthood once again. Such immortality moves are rare, but they occur in the wee ones — another jellyfish, Hydra, and a flatworm, Planaria. Brendborg suggests that longevity favors smaller people (and smaller dogs).

I am fascinated by how many large animals traveled the extinction path in the post-dinosaur age—the woolly rhinoceros, mammoth, 3-ton wombat, and an Australian 10-foot thunderbird weighing 1300 pounds (living 7 million years ago). Were these incredible giants doomed because of humans? Currently, humans seem intent on dooming other humans. Is this because they do not have a mammoth to conquer? Unfortunately, the mammoth’s relatives, elephants, are on the chopping block today for their ivory tusks. Will people take down the largest brain of any land animal?  

Elephants form close bonds. When two circus elephants were separated for 20 years and reunited, they recognized each other immediately with much affection. Elephants comfort one another in distress and grieve their dead. The seeds of many plant species rely on passage through elephant digestive tracts to germinate effectively. Why drive elephants into extinction? Is a peaceful planet just impossible?

Returning to Brendborg’s youthful wisdom, “There is so much in this world that drives us apart. We’ve learned the hard way that one of the best ways to unite people is through a common enemy.” What if the enemy is us?

We need a “sudden jump” in compassion to sustain biodiversity.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz

177. What nature “facts” fascinate you?

178. What might you do to sustain biodiversity?        

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


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