CAMDEN Charles Darwin may have been born 200 years ago come Feb. 12, but his theory of evolution remains an everyday touchstone for modern biologists. And while the Origin of Species author might not have known the term "global warming," he wouldn't have been surprised that the environment is changing. He would, however, be astonished by the speed at which it's happening today.
"Every species is under temporary permanence," says Bill Saidel, an associate professor of biology at Rutgers University's Camden Campus, where he teaches Animal Behavior and Behavioral Neurobiology. Darwin would have predicted changes in species' habits and even changes in the environment, but the planet's facing changes that are both drastic and unpredictable.
Saidel notes some already observed results of global warming today, like changing avian migration patterns and pH levels in oceans. But how would Darwin begin to determine how every species might respond to climate change? Most likely he'd begin by observing those habitats that are uniquely individual and well-defined.
This approach - researching one specialized habitat for insight into a larger understanding of evolution - is how Saidel conducts his own research at RutgersCamden. His interest in the exotic African butterfly fish is precisely because it has evolved two retinas in each eye, but only feeds from information derived from one. The fish's highly specialized adaptations, from retina to brain, serve as a model for discerning the circuitry of feeding in all vertebrae whose visual traits aren't as clearly segmented.
"This fish has much to teach us. It has adapted extraordinarily to a single unique environment. Yet, the consequences of a highly adapted species is that any change can be dire," says Saidel.
Dan Shain, associate professor of biology at RutgersCamden, also researches highly specialized creatures: worms that thrive in the world's most extreme climates. He
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