Friday, March 18, 2011

Mosquito Foils Christians and Climate Deniers

From Science (Feb. 25, 2011, Vol. 331, #6020, p1006-7): Geneticists Christina Holzapfel and William Bradshaw, of the University of Oregon, Eugene, have been studying the mosquito Wyeomyia smithii, for several decades. The insect spends most of its life inside the purple pitcher plant found in bogs in the eastern U.S. It does not transmit disease or bother people much. The larvae eat microbes and detritus inside the plant, while adults eat nectar, not blood.
Wyeomyia smithii,Wiki Commons
In 2001, Holzapfel and Bradshaw showed that W. smithii had evolved in response to global warming, the first time an animal had been directly observed evolving in response to climate change, something that is sure to piss off creationists, who continue to deny evolution and claim it has never been observed, as well as climate deniers, who continue to claim that climate change worries are overblown and not having any meaningful impact on nature. While there are countless examples of climate change having serious impacts on nature (e.g., mass extinctions, melting ice caps and glaciers), as well as many examples of scientists observing evolution (e.g., antibiotic resistance in bacteria or pesticide resistance in insects), this particular discovery is particularly elegant in that it slaps down both delusions at the same time.
Pitcher Plant (Image by subflux)

The researchers observed that, over the past 25 years, larvae in Maine had gradually delayed the start of hibernation by a week relative to their tropical cousins. The further north they went, the longer the delay in the start of hibernation. Mosquitoes living in Florida, in contrast, have not changed their hibernation patterns in 25 years. They concluded that this change was genetic and was triggered by the longer growing season resulting from climate change.

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