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Are Islands “Magical” Laboratories for Evolution?

Casey Luskin

Evolutionists sometimes tell us that islands are amazing laboratories where evolution is free to do anything. In his National Academy of Sciences booklet Evolution in Hawaii, Steve Olson repeats the tired old line that “evolution is supported by overwhelming evidence” (p. vii) and says “Islands are especially good places to see evolution in action.” (p. vii) He goes even further, suggesting that islands like Hawaii are “the best places in the world to study evolution.” (p. 1) But is it true that islands necessarily provide laboratories where diversity evolves en masse?

An article on ScienceDaily about a new study in Global Ecology and Biogeography on island biogeography examines the question. The author states, “research that shows there’s nothing extraordinary about evolutionary processes on islands” since “a number of scientific studies comparing evolutionary patterns of island and mainland ecosystems, and the results refute the idea that islands operate under different, ‘magical’ rules.” The author continues to explain his findings, excerpted below:

“There is a tendency to believe that big animals become very small on islands, and small animals become very big, due to limited resources or lack of competition. I’ve shown that this is just not true, at least not as a general rule. Evolution operates on islands no differently than anywhere else.”

[…]

Employing their own statistical tools incorporating large data sets that compared body sizes on various islands and on mainland communities, Dr. Meiri and his colleagues found no such tendency for bizarrely-sized animals to develop on islands. “We concluded that the evolution of body sizes is as random with respect to ‘isolation’ as on the rest of the planet. This means that you can expect to find the same sort of patterns on islands and on the mainland.”

Dr. Meiri attributes our widely held misperceptions about “dragons and dwarfs” to the fact that people tend to notice the extremes more if they are found on islands.

The reason for science and mankind’s fascination with island communities could boil down to “better press,” says Dr. Meiri. If observers investigate human beings on 3,000 different South Pacific islands and all but one of the islands are populated by ordinary-sized people, they will tend to concentrate on the unique case. They forget about the other 2,999 islands in the South Pacific with normal-sized humans, and focus on the unusual.

“I think it’s purely a psychological bias,” Dr. Meiri concludes. “It’s just magical thinking. Nothing more.” Fantasies about island habitats and the animals that live there are best left for movies, TV shows, and fantasy novels, he adds.

(‘Magical Thinking’ About Islands an Illusion? Biologist Refutes Conventional Thinking on Evolution)

For more on how biogeography poses challenges to neo-Darwinian evolution, visit any of the following articles we’ve previously posted here on ENV:

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.

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