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Desert Diary


Students of evolutionary theory learn that natural selection non-randomly shapes a population by the interaction between the genetic makeup of individuals and their environment. But then, strangely enough, many unconsciously revert to thinking of our environment as that of our hunter-gatherer forebears rather than of our modern civilization. Thus the question often comes up as to whether we're harming our species by reliance on modern medicine; that by allowing people to reproduce that could not without medical science, we are weakening ourselves.

What such students seem to forget is that most of us do not live in the hunter-gatherer environment of raw nature. The environment we live in includes the benefits of medicine, of public sanitation, and all the other aspects of modern society. Any natural selection going on is toward adaptation to this environment, not some environment that is no more. If some of the more dire predictions of future environmental collapse come true, then we'll be faced with an entirely new environment and then, and only then, will our conformation to modern conditions become non-adaptive.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.