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Evolution: What's Happening NOW

Formerly wild animals are being crowded out of their natural habitats and are moving into suburbs and even into big cities?and they're evolving new ways to cope. Humans are still evolving as well?we're getting SMARTER. And scientists have discovered that evolution takes place more quickly at the equator.

In the April 22 issue of New Scientist magazine, Bob Holmes quotes ecologist Joel Brown as saying, "It's the wild west of evolution and ecology." He?s talking about the way evolution is working in big cities, as animals struggle to adapt to their new environments in order to survive.

We see examples of their failure to adapt every day. For instance, squirrels get run over by cars because they have evolved, over millions of years, to cross open spaces as rapidly as possible in order to outrun predators?but they can't outrun automobiles.

In Florida, the bright lights of the city confuse sea turtles that hatch out of their eggs on the beach before entering the ocean. Instead of aiming for the water, the hatchlings often head for the lights of the city instead, where they will soon perish. The question is, will the few survivors develop mutations that will change this self-destructive behavior?

Ker Than writes in LiveScience.com that a new study by the National Academy of Sciences shows that plants and animals living in warm, tropic climates around the equator evolve faster than those living in other areas of the world. This is shown by the fact that the number of different species of plants and animals is highest in the tropics and gets lower the closer you get to the earth's poles.

This is one of the reasons we know that we first evolved into modern humans in Africa: human DNA is much more varied there. In contrast, the DNA is Iceland is almost all identical, meaning most people are distantly related to one another. This is why major DNA testing is being done there, since this makes it easier to isolate individual genes for conditions like schizophrenia.

Rebecca Morelle writes in bbcnews.com that researchers have found that the shape of the human skull has changed significantly over the past 650 years. Modern people possess higher foreheads than our medieval ancestors. Scientists can tell this by looking at skulls from the 14th century up until the present time. Some of these came from plague victims whose bodies were heaped into mass graves, while others came from ship wrecks from that period. Our skulls are about 20% larger than they used to be which, according to researcher Dr. Peter Rock, "is really rather a lot." This increase in size may be due to an increase in mental capacity?in other words, a higher I.Q.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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