. "15 Three Ambitious (and Rather Unorthodox) Assignments for the Field of Biodiversity Genetics--JOHN C. AVISE." In the Light of Evolution, Volume II: Biodiversity and Extinction. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2008.
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In the Light of Evolution: Volume II—Biodiversity and Extinction
infected by intracellular parasitic bacteria that are maternally transmitted and, accordingly, have evolved the physiological capability to transform male roly-polys into functional females.) Does a pregnant male pipefish or seahorse often carry a brood of offspring from more than one dam? (In some species, yes; in other cases, no.) What fraction of embryos in the nests of bluegill sunfish are foster progeny attributable to cuckoldry by sneaker males? (Approximately 20% in one well-studied population.) Did the bipedal hop arise once or multiple times in kangaroos’ evolution? (Probably once only, according to phylogenetic analysis.) Why do king crabs have an asymmetrically twisted abdomen? (Because this trait appears to be a phylogenetic legacy retained from hermit crab ancestors whose coiled abdomens had evolved to fit nicely into deserted snail shells that hermits adopt as protective homes.) Which came first in evolution, the chicken or the egg? (The hard-shelled egg came first, by ≈300 million years.)
Assignment: Educate the Public to Nature’s Marvels
In the end, we conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.
Baba Dioum, Senegalese poet
A sad predicament for conservation efforts in the modern world is that a large fraction of humanity is estranged from nature, a situation that is likely to get worse as urbanization increases and human numbers soar. For example, I teach at a major university most of whose undergraduate students come from the metropolitan Los Angeles basin, and relatively few of those students seem to have had much opportunity for substantive personal contact with nature. Furthermore, our biology curriculum offers few “organismal” courses that might help to alleviate this problem. The situation here in Southern California is hardly unique. How can educators enthuse their students about biodiversity when direct experiences with nature have not been a significant part of those students’ upbringing?
The good news is that many students (as well as many members of the general public) seem willing and eager to embrace nature if simply given the opportunity. Therein lies a third grand mission for molecular genetics and the other biodiversity sciences in conservation efforts: to cultivate in students of all ages a sense of awe, respect, and appreciation for the numerous other creatures—including the charismatically challenged—that share our crowded and imperiled planet. As phrased by E. O. Wilson (1984), “to the degree that we come to understand other organisms, we will place a greater value on them, and on ourselves.” And, as noted by the late Stephen J. Gould (1991), “We cannot win this battle to save species