Starling spam

Would have beena great fiction story...if it was fiction
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cammoblammo
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Starling spam

Post by cammoblammo » Mon Jun 09, 2008 8:27 am

When I was a young buck, I used to wear a bit of after shave to please the ladies. Let's be honest, I needed all the help I could get.

I've been married for nearly fourteen years now, so I guess you could say it worked.

It turns out, though, that I may have been making the human species less fit as a result. According to a recent episode of the ABC's Science Show pollutants in the environment of the European starling make less fit males more attractive to females. The pollutants seem to affect the part of the brain responsible for producing songs. The song of the affected bird become longer and more complex, which increases the bird's attractiveness. As a result, weaker males are finding it easier to spread their inferior genes, making the population less fit as a result.

I can imagine the email now:

Song too simple? Need to be able to perform longer? Can't pass on enugh genetic material? Buy synthetic o3$$trg3n now and watch the ladies come a-running!

Hmm, there's more than one reason I don't write spam for a living.

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Mr. Tweedy
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Re: Starling spam

Post by Mr. Tweedy » Mon Jun 09, 2008 3:31 pm

I never understood that: Why would males who sing better be more "fit?" Does singing well mean that a given bird is also heartier or better at finding seeds? A bird that has a defective heart valve but can sing would pass on its genes before a perfectly healthy bird that couldn't. It seems like it would be like with humans: Completely worthless males cold be really good at showing off for the chicks.

Anyway, I'm glad the starlings are having a good time with the pollution. Pollution is always getting bad press, but now we know that there's a good side. Sure it causes cancer and poisons the water, but it also helps loser birds score, and that's important.
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Post by bolddeceiver » Thu Jun 12, 2008 5:44 am

I'm a visual person...

Image

To Mr. Tweedy (who, given his name, should have an innate understanding of everything birdsong-related :wink: ), that's the amazing thing about sexual selection: It sometimes selects for non-adaptive (or even explicitly maladaptive) traits. At first a slightly brighter male fish is, of course, likely to be more fit than a sickly, drab one. But over time, the fish who is marginally brighter than the earlier bright fish is going to trigger that instinct even moreso, until finally we have a male fish who'll probably get eaten long before the drab fish, but sire more offspring in his short lifespan than ten drab fish might in their long, safe life.

Even crazier, the female partner may actually benefit, genetically speaking. If her male offspring inherit their father's brighter coloration, they're more likely to carry on her genetic material (since later generations of female fish will find them attractive). This is called -- I'm not kidding -- the "sexy son hypothesis." Evolutionary biologists are a wacky lot.

So it's understandable that if, at one point, a bird able to squack louder was clearly healthier, this behavior could easily be refined by generations of lady-birds who found such things attractive. Might explain some of the freaks of nature on the covers of fashion magazines, for that matter.
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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Thu Jun 12, 2008 2:54 pm

I understand the theory just fine (that aspect hasn't changed since Darwin). I guess I more meant to say "It doesn't make sense."

Since bird chicks choose bird dudes based on how well they sing, not on any objective measure of fitness, the overall fitness of starlings would decrease over time as a result of female selection. I.e. each successive generation would be less fit than the last, because the females are choosing mates based on criteria that are irrelevant to fitness. The whole system of choosing mates by male display is detrimental to overall bird survival, and so, logically, it should never have evolved in the first place.

For evolution to push life forward in any sense, it would have to employ systems that select by criteria of objective fitness, yet almost all mate selection systems we observe use superficial decoration as criteria. What gives?
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Post by adam » Thu Jun 12, 2008 5:08 pm

Mr. Tweedy wrote: For evolution to push life forward in any sense, it would have to employ systems that select by criteria of objective fitness, yet almost all mate selection systems we observe use superficial decoration as criteria. What gives?
Interesting discussion. Seems like the factor that makes microevolution possible despite this, is that the fit vs. relatively unfit male to choose between are both still alive and around to be chosen between. Maybe you’re confused about why a male that’s getting too bright for its own species’ good is being selected, because you’re not accounting for all the males that were really too bright who were eaten before they made it to the final cut. Mating behavior is only one of a lot of factors contributing to genetic survivability- there’s still the ability to hunt/find food, get away from predators, developed immune systems, adapt to the environment, etc. And a bird has to pass all these other tests to be old enough to even get to the mating behavior phase.

So for a bird to be getting brighter and singing louder despite itself, and still be around and healthy enough to mate, it would have to compensate for these disadvantages by genetically making up for them extra in the other areas- like the brighter bird is easier to spot by predators, so now it has to be stronger/faster to get away from them.
Hmm… actually, this could be how higher culture and the arts develop. It’s like humans- our species got strong enough to survive despite (maybe because of) our mating rituals getting more and more absurd and flamboyant; so the impractical absurd stuff (like art) became more important as survivability became less of an issue.

And so I submit to you that the Drabblecast itself, as the pinnacle of higher art and creative expression, is the direct result of the “sexy son hypothesis.” The brilliant production of DC is the human equivalent of the more complex birdsong- and coming from a weak, unfit male (Norm), who might someday manage to bag a chick anyway. :lol:

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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Thu Jun 12, 2008 5:55 pm

adam wrote: Interesting discussion. Seems like the factor that makes microevolution possible despite this, is that the fit vs. relatively unfit male to choose between are both still alive and around to be chosen between. Maybe you’re confused about why a male that’s getting too bright for its own species’ good is being selected, because you’re not accounting for all the males that were really too bright who were eaten before they made it to the final cut. Mating behavior is only one of a lot of factors contributing to genetic survivability- there’s still the ability to hunt/find food, get away from predators, developed immune systems, adapt to the environment, etc. And a bird has to pass all these other tests to be old enough to even get to the mating behavior phase.

So for a bird to be getting brighter and singing louder despite itself, and still be around and healthy enough to mate, it would have to compensate for these disadvantages by genetically making up for them extra in the other areas- like the brighter bird is easier to spot by predators, so now it has to be stronger/faster to get away from them.
I think you missed my point. My point is the mate-selection driven by superficial criteria should not have evolved because it is in no way beneficial (and may actually be detrimental) to the survival of a given species. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes no sense that a mechanism of no practical value would be so common in such a variety of animals. Evolution would figure out a way to objectively gauge the fitness of mates and reject anything as useless as song complexity for the simple reason that it is useless.

I think I'd best just come out of the closet and confess that I am one of those "ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked" people who does not believe in evolution. That said, I probably won't say anything else about it, because in my experience discussion concerning the validity of evolution as a theory generally doesn't go anywhere but a downward spiral, especially since informed dissent is so rare that it is often considered... well... insane. Actually, I think "wicked" sounds more glamorous, so I'll go with that. Wicked! :twisted:

But this does provide us with another example: Even though my disbelief clearly shows that I am an unfit male, it is part of a feature set that has proved attractive to a very fit female and thus helped me to reproduce. Just like with the starling, the less-fit male's abnormal brain winds up giving him an advantage!

Thus we see that drabblenews is relevant and applicable to our real lives.
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Post by Goldenrat » Thu Jun 12, 2008 6:43 pm

Mr. Tweedy wrote:
adam wrote:
I think I'd best just come out of the closet and confess that I am one of those "ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked" people who does not believe in evolution. That said, I probably won't say anything else about it, because in my experience discussion concerning the validity of evolution as a theory generally doesn't go anywhere but a downward spiral, especially since informed dissent is so rare that it is often considered... well... insane. Actually, I think "wicked" sounds more glamorous, so I'll go with that. Wicked! :twisted:
So how would you explain it using your beliefs?

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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Thu Jun 12, 2008 7:41 pm

Goldenrat wrote:So how would you explain it using your beliefs?
Yeah, I'm really not going there. I don't want to mar the forum with a Mr. Tweedy vs. Everyone debate, which is what the topic would instantly turn into. If I weren't the moderator, maybe. If you really want to grill me, you're welcome to PM.
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Post by Goldenrat » Thu Jun 12, 2008 7:57 pm

Mr. Tweedy wrote:
Goldenrat wrote:So how would you explain it using your beliefs?
Yeah, I'm really not going there. I don't want to mar the forum with a Mr. Tweedy vs. Everyone debate, which is what the topic would instantly turn into. If I weren't the moderator, maybe. If you really want to grill me, you're welcome to PM.
Nah, I probably shouldn't have brought it up. These types of discussions go nowhere and aren't worth starting. Back to our regularly scheduled Drabblenews freak out.

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Post by adam » Tue Jun 17, 2008 3:13 pm

Well, I was sure to specify ‘microevolution’ because my understanding was that even those wacky, insane creationists (of which I am one) bought into the relatively short-term, observable stuff. So not to kick a dead horse here by revisiting this subject- just wanted to clarify that we’re probably on the same page(ish). I think an intelligent creator would naturally design things that better themselves genetically; so understanding behaviors in evolutionary terms should make sense to creationists too, as long as it doesn’t involve primordial soup.

I think bigger mammals have to demonstrate fitness objectively all the time- male lions, gorillas, rams etc. all have to beat the crap out of each other to get the goods. But for something like a European Starling which is right at the bottom of the food chain, the only real objective criteria is to not get eaten. So the louder and brighter they can get away with being- the better they must be at not getting eaten. But what do I know I’m pretty much just guessing. But where can one spout off idle fictitious speculation if not here?

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Post by Mr. Tweedy » Tue Jun 17, 2008 3:48 pm

Oh, yeah, we're on the same page. Organism change all the time and are always adapting to better survive in their environments. I'm all over the micro/macro distinction.

Mmm. This may be opening the can, but my own idle speculation would be that the purpose of mate selection based on ornamentation is to... produce ornamentation. Females choosing the best singers would do very little to increase the "fitness" of starlings, but it would ensure that future generations of birds would be good singers. Or like those beetles with the huge horns that the dude beetles use to fight over the chick beetles. Those horns don't do any objective good in advancing beetle-kind, but they sure are cool. My hypothesis is that nature actively tries to be beautiful, just for the sake of beauty.

Idle speculation.
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Post by strawman » Tue Jun 17, 2008 5:07 pm

Creation is, after all, God's drabblecast.
Never judge anyone until you have biopsied their brain.

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Post by Goldenrat » Tue Jun 17, 2008 7:35 pm

Mr. Tweedy wrote: My hypothesis is that nature actively tries to be beautiful, just for the sake of beauty.
Man, warthogs still have a long way to go. But they would fit in to the hypothesis of nature trying to achieve coolness. They are way out in front in that department.

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