Landscapes of Change, Inertia, and Species Coexistence

April 7, 2017

Joanna E. Lambert

Humans are adapted to change. I’ll illustrate this point using feeding and diet as an example.[1] Our nutritional niche is arguably among the broadest on the planet, rivaling most other species in its eclectic omnivory and diverse patterns of food consumption; we are gustatory generalists extraordinaire, flexible, and adapted to shifting landscapes of food availability. Such biological flexibility has been the subject of lively discussion among biological anthropologists and evolutionary biologists. The Variability Selection Hypothesis (Potts 1998), for example, posits that humans (and our hominin forebears) are best adapted not to any particular sort of ecological circumstances but instead to change itself. This makes sense from a climatological and ecological vantage: the most dramatic and frequent climate oscillations in the past 27 million years have occurred recently, in the past 5 to 6 million years—dates corresponding with the evolution of our lineage. We continue to adapt as new foods have been introduced, with continually shifting gut microbiomes and new alleles. The phylogenetic inertia[2] of our biological and ecological flexibility has clearly served us well over evolutionary time: we are a true cosmopolitan species, occupying virtually every habitat type on the planet.


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Regeneration of Human-Modified Landscapes

The Irony of Antipathy to Resilient Animals

January 19, 2016

Joanna E. Lambert


You hear a lot about resilience these days—for good reason. Our planet is undergoing profound ecological and climatological change, and we are now unequivocally in a geochemically distinct epoch (Anthropocene) with its own unique signature of human-produced aluminum, concrete, and plastics—direct by-products of the “Great Acceleration of population growth, industrialization, and mineral and energy use” (Waters et al. 2016: 2622). The resilience of species—including human—to this Great Acceleration has received considerable attention of late by social scientists, although the concept as applied to ecological systems has been around for several decades. As originally conceived by Holling (1973), ecologists define resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks” (Walker et al. 2004: 5). However, it is not my goal to explore resilience per se; many superb reviews and analyses already exist (e.g., Jacka 2015). Instead, here I explore the irony of resilience from the perspective of human antipathy toward “pest” species.

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