Putting the life back in science fiction


Hot Earth Dreams and a Dying Earth Scenario

Vance’s Dying Earth Series (1950-1984) is one of the more famous series in fantasy, influential not least by killing off loads of magic users in Dungeons and Dragons with the Vancian “fire and forget” magic system.   However much you love or loathe the books, there’s a bunch of stuff Vance got wrong.  If an enterprising author wants to play in the far future of Earth/Dying Earth subgenre, given what we know now, it would be quite different than Vance envisioned.  And Hot Earth Dreams can help.  First, about the Dying planet genre:  It’s not just Vance.  There’s Burroughs’ Barsoom, Clark Ashton-Smith’s Zothique, Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, and many others.  Still, Vance’s is probably the best known (possibly after Barsoom), and it’s the one people think of.  Sun’s going out, civilization is decaying, magic has replaced science, and morality becomes, erm, more transactional.

What Vance got wrong was the idea of the sun going out like a guttering coal.  As we know now, the Sun instead is going to get hotter, ultimately evaporating off Earth’s oceans and making surface life impossible before (probably) ultimately it grows into a red giant and probably swallows our planet.  So pale white people wandering around on a shady world is almost certainly not going to happen.  But the sun sterilizing Gaia is around a billion years off, and there’s a lot of future between now and then.

Then there’s the whole supercontinent (“Zothique?”) in our future.  That may be 150-350 million years hence.  Here are four separate scenarios for how that supercontinent might form.  Here’s two views of a fifth, and there’s a sixth I can’t find a link to that’s totally different.  Also, there’s good reason to think that we don’t really understand plate tectonics as well as we might, now that we’re getting a better understanding of “Earth’s interior continents” and what happens after continents subduct.  Anyway, if you believe in the whole supercontinent cycle thing (tl;dr, supercontinents form every 300-500 million years, details endlessly argued over), we’ve got enough time for another two Pangeas in the next billion years.  Just because they’re so alien to us, I’m going to focus on these going forward, but the future could be just about any arrangement, given what we know now.

Here are some things to understand about a supercontinent-ish planet.

  • Earth has two modes, icehouse and hothouse.  We’re currently in an Icehouse, and the climate change disaster is disastrous only because we’re rapidly and temporarily shoving Gaia into hothouse mode.  While Earth has spent about 80% of the last 500 million years or so in hothouse mode, we are children of the ice, and most hominid evolution took place in the context of repeating ice ages.  Worse, perhaps, the last time the Earth jumped from icehouse to hothouse was the end of the Carboniferous, so we don’t have an “evolutionary memory” of living species that have gone through this. That’s what makes Hothouse Earth so dangerous to us and especially for global civilization.
  • Getting back to Pangea Nextia (a name chosen because it hasn’t been published for a model, unlike Pangea Proxima, P. Ultima, or P. Nova), it’s almost certainly going to be a hothouse, with no polar ice caps, a fairly low temperature gradient from the equator to the poles (meaning hot poles, hotter equator, large dead zones in the ocean deeps, really hot subtropical deserts, few if any everwet equatorial forests, and most of the diversity in the large number of para/sub/dry seasonal tropical forests everywhere from near the equator to around 50o north. Minus the deserts around 30 degrees north where the Hadley Cell comes down (except for islands, mountaintops, etc.).
  • Pangea Nextia will have a super-Saharan desert at the same latitude (north or south) as the current one, because that’s the way global climate works.  It will also likely have Himalayan-style mountains where continents plowed into each other (The Himalayas are where India plowed into Asia), Andes-style mountains where oceanic crust subducted under the edge of a continent, and Alps/Zagros/Mediterranean/etc mountains where large continents coming together crushed a bunch of ocean and a small continent between them.  The cordilleras will be sort of like the stitches on Frankenstein’s assembly scars, and for much the same reason.

Why is this all important?  Climate dictates how and where people live, so knowing how supercontinental biomes work helps set the scene.  Mountains are water towers, not just from mountain glaciers, but because water percolates into mountains and comes out in mountain springs.  This is probably why they’re so important in so many religions.  They’re not just places to get closer to god, the waters coming off mountains keep people alive, as well as providing refuges for all sorts of life.  Your scenario likely has rivers running from mountains, deserts, and/or monsoonal forests in it.  Understand why they’re important, and you’ll understand why people revere, fight over, and take refuge in them. Hint hint.

Speaking of life, what does the future hold?

  • The first question is about mass extinction events, and how many the Earth will experience before your Dying Earth scenario starts.  We may or may not trigger a mass extinction in the next 50 years (it’ll be submassive if not truly mass).  Other likely extinction triggers are large igneous provinces and asteroid impacts, of which the former is much more common.  If I had to guess where the next large igneous province is going to emerge, it might be under the African Rift  or the Canary Islands (look at the simulation in this article, and see where the big blobs of magma are close to the surface).  It’s possible a fat LIP will emerge well before the next supercontinent forms, so that’s one, if not two, mass extinctions prior to the scenario time.  And possibly a third if the suturing together of continents causes another mass extinction from radical amounts of mountain building.  If you want to go most of a billion years, that’s possibly another seventeen extinction events, including two asteroid strikes, any number of LIPs, and petroleum-based civilization recreating itself from resequestered petroleum at least five if not ten times (every 100-200 million years).
  • How does life survive extinction events?  The quick answer is underground, which is why the super-rich building tunnels for trolls survival bunkers may be evolutionarily significant.   I think there’s a decent case that animals and plants that can live extended periods underground tend to survive mass extinctions.  Animals do this by, erm, making their burrows part of their extended phenotype (see the book referenced above), while plants normally hide seeds underground, which is why plant evolution really doesn’t show the changes during extinction events that animal evolution does.  What tends to get erased by extinction events are complex ecosystems like coral reefs and forests.  Forests after an extinction event are often quite different than prior, not just because the large herbivores are missing, but so are the specialist symbiotes (pollinators, pathogens, and parasites).  These all take 5-20 million years to re-evolve, depending on the severity of the extinction event.  Ditto for coral reefs.
  • Going forward, as the Earth warms we can expect C4 photosynthesis to start dominating over C3 plants (the current norm).  C3 photosynthesis evolved billions of years ago before there was a lot of oxygen in the atmosphere, and when the sun was dimmer.  As a result, the key enzyme (rubisco) has a bad habit of screwing up when it’s too hot or there’s too little CO2 around.  Plants have a lot of cellular machinery to deal with this (see photo-oxidation, heat shock proteins, and others).  C4 basically adds a turbocharger to the photosynthetic cells to boost the level of CO2 encountered by rubisco (the “turbo” is a mnemonic, because C4 plants have a distinctive type of ring anatomy in the cells of their leaves which gives their nature away).  The way it works is that some cells do C4 photosynthesis, creating a 4-carbon compound that is passed to other cells doing conventional C3 photosynthesis, adding extra carbon that gets broken down.  C3 photosynthesis in the receiving cells then produces 3-carbon building blocks that get turned into 6 carbon sugar molecules.  Anyway, C4 has evolved a number of times, but entirely among angiosperrms and entirely in the last hundred million years or less.  The most familiar examples are maize, sugarcane, and sorghum, but it shows up in a number of dicot plants, mostly (but far from entirely) in the Caryophyllales and Euphorbiaceae.  With the exception of a few rare trees on the Hawaiian Islands, C4 plants are entirely herbaceous, and the Hawaiian species are probably an example of the phenomenon of insular woodiness, which is incredibly cool if you’re a plant nerd (look it up).

The reason for C4 plants being herbaceous, often weedy, is actually important to scenario building for two reasons.  One is that, in plants, radical new adaptations (flowers, compound flowers, etc) tend to pioneer their shtick as vagrants (e.g. weeds) in highly disturbed areas.  Once they succeed in in these edgy venues, they start colonizing more complex, intact ecosystems, eventually evolving into dominant forest species and the like.  This shows up in plant clades often starting off with small, wind- and gravity-dispersed seeds, then evolving towards bigger seeds and animal-dispersed fruits that are more suitable for competing in a forest.  If you’re thinking about how plants evolve from weeds to forest giants after extinction events, this is how they do it, and this is why C4 plants are among those that will likely become more dominant in the future–many of our currently really obnoxious weeds are C4 plants.

The other thing is that C4 plants do better with bright lights and high temperatures than do C3 plants, but only up to a point.  Corn, for example, overheats around 45oC, with grain production dropping rapidly as temperatures rise in this region and plants dying when they go past their limits.  As a result, corn production is likely to take a huge hit in the next century, as areas that grow corn in the summer find it too hot to deal.  C3 winter wheat production is modeled as being less harmed, because this cool season crop doesn’t hit its upper limits during climate change, and indeed it might do better.  A century from now, cool season corn might be the thing, but the bigger point is that every plant has its upper limits.  C4 stretches but does not eliminate those limits.  That’s what keeps C3 plants around, in cooler and shadier areas.  But yes, monsoon forests dominated by salt-oaks (the big-seeded descendants of todays chenopod salt bushes) could easily be a thing on Pangea Nextia.  So could giant sugar cane brakes.

  • Now let’s look at human evolution.  Why expect humans to be around in hundreds of millions of years?  This is what Hot Earth Dreams is about, and if you’re reading this blog, you may well have read the book.  The tl;dr version is that I think that humans have two inheritance systems: genes and culture.  We do evolve genetically, but culture evolves radically faster than genes do.  If we want to become oceanic piscivores, we don’t evolve webbed feet, we learn how to build boats and create and use fishing gear.  And if that no longer works as a lifestyle, we fisherfolk  can go ashore and go into symbiosis with large ruminants (become cowboys) or whatever.  The speed at which cultures adapt buffers what would otherwise be strong selective pressures on our genes, meaning our genetic evolution gets slowed.  Since I don’t think people get to be fisherfolk for hundreds of generations (or civilized, or farmers, or cowboys, or artists, or whatever), this slows our genetic evolution down, which is why I think it’s plausible to assume that humans could survive into the very deep future.

This doesn’t mean that I think humans won’t evolve.  In fact, some of the biggest genetic selection pressures on humans come not from evolution but from coevolution, from our relationships with other organisms.  These show up in things like the rapid spread of lactose tolerance (due to our symbioses with dairy animals),  various disease tolerance genes (due to exposure to epidemics due to living in settlements linked by long-distance trade routes), and possibly some genetic tolerance of things like alcohol and sugar (due to our symbioses with yeast and sucrose producers).  I’m using the terminology of symbiosis because I really like Thompson’s geographic mosaic theory of coevolution (read about it here and here), but it’s basically that evolution proceeds through interaction among species within particular environments, so it’s about genotype 1 affecting genotype 2 while both interact in ecosystem A. Different interactions happen between other populations of the same organisms in different environments, and Mosaic coevolution is (IMHO) a really handy theory for worldbuilding, because it helps you understand how every place becomes different.

Humans domesticating other species and doing agriculture, forest management, hunting, fishing, and so on are all examples of how we interact with particular populations of various species in different, geographically bounded environments.  Right now, at Peak Civilization, coevolution to deal with humans is the major selective force on a huge number of species.  Either they must become a symbiont/pet/agricultural species, become a pest, a commensal, or become utterly useless and ignored.  Oh, and they must survive with climate change, pollution, and anthropogenic habitat loss.  Our current, relentless evolutionary pressure will change drastically over the course of the next century, most likely as our civilization crashes, but possibly if we figure out this quasi-mythical sustainability thing and calm down. Regardless, it’s a huge thing now, and coevolution with humans across all the habitats we occupy will continue to be a big thing into the future.

  • Now imagine life coevolving with humans for hundreds of millions of years.  Right now, a lot of animals don’t really understand humans the way domesticated species like dogs and horses do.  But going forward, it’s likely that a wide variety (possibly a huge majority) of animals will evolve to become able to decode our signals and hack our cultures, again, the way dogs do.  They won’t be smart in a human sense, but they’ll be clever like Clever Hans. Plants and fungi will do their own versions of this adaptation (you can read about it in Botany of Desire).

This may seem abstract, so let’s talk about the difference between Africa and Papua New Guinea.  Modern humans first evolved in Africa over 300,000 years ago, while they got to Papua maybe 50,000 years ago.   Africa sustained the fewest megafauna extinctions of any continent, while Papua had only a few megafauna-type animals (bear-sized) that were wiped out tens of thousands of years ago.  However you feel about the whole Younger Dryas extinction thing, Africa seems to be a place where the wild animals know how to deal with people a lot better than just about anywhere else other than maybe south Asia.  It’s reasonable to think this is due in part to the animals coevolving with evolving humans for a really, really long time compared with what animals in most of the rest of the world experienced.

Going forward 200,000,000 years, with humans continually present, and what animals in Africa do now in the way of dealing with humans will seem quaint.  Animals will have coevolved with humans starting when they were rat-equivalents who had just survived an extinction event by hiding in bunkers with us.  And they may have evolved to elephant size over the ten million years afterwards, also in continual proximity to us, despite, or perhaps because, of all we did to them.  Whatever their relationships with us (partners, food, social parasites, predators, commensals, amensals, parasites, etc.), they will know us very, very well. And we’ll know them.

In the Papuan mountains, you can sit around a campfire, even go hunting at night, without worrying about anything more than an accident, getting malaria from a mosquito, or stepping on a snake.  In the African bush, you’ve got all that, plus lethal encounters with lions, leopards, hyenas, and hippos (among others), so you surround your campsite with a boma of thorny branches to keep the problem species from eating you (or at least you keep the fire going all night), and you don’t hunt at night.  The deep future will look like Africa, and it’s quite likely that the local megafauna will have coevolved with us.  A boma may be the minimum needed.  Or perhaps you’ll be able to make an arrangement with the equivalent of a local pack of hyenas to not eat you in exchange for you cooking whatever they catch and tending their den for them.  The possibilities are endless.

And that doesn’t even include crops.  There are several authors who argue (I think wrongly) that the rise of and continued existence of civilization depends on the extensive cultivation of grain, specifically barley, wheat, rice, or maize.  I’m not going to regurgitate their argument, or why Hawai’i disproved it, but we humans have intimate and complex relationships with the grasses, including corn, sugar cane, bamboo, rice, wheat, barley, rye, sorghum, millet, tef, and so on (even lawns!).  Given 100 million years or more of continued coevolution, and we may be as intimately connected to our grain crops as leafcutter ants are to their fungal colonies.  Or not.   But with crops, it’s not just worth considering what exotic new crops will evolve and what old crops stay, but also think about how our symbioses with plants will deepen and become richer and possibly more necessary over hundreds of millions of years.  And if grains bore you, think about 200,000,000 years of caffeine or alcohol coevolution.

As for human culture, in Hot Earth Dreams I mentioned the theory that languages effectively randomize (with the exception of baby talk) over maybe 10,000 years.  We’ll never know the languages of the last ice age, let alone the first human language, and in 10,000 years or less, English will have utterly vanished.  Second, archaeologically and culturally we seem to have a window of around 5,000 years where we can know anything at all useful.  Prior to that, we’re increasingly limited to whatever rare artifacts were randomly preserved.  Looking at the first 300,000 years of human existence, there is very little we can know about most of that history, and it grows less every year.

Going into the future this erasure will get worse. Humans will have to recycle the ruins of old cities, because we will have exhausted readily available ore bodies, so we’ll have to remix the resources of the past to make the present.  Do this for hundreds of millions of years, and that will be future culture.  People will likely know that humans have been around “forever,” and they’ll likely have some idea of how long “forever” was (American Indians had some notion of deep time, because they had both exposed fossils and geologic evidence of past climates that was obvious enough for them to get it).  But they won’t remember us.  Mass extinctions and cultural erosion will see to that.  Even things like race and ethnicity now appear only a few thousand years old, so they won’t look like us either.

For me, at least, the notion of hundreds of millions of years of coevolution with a world that complexifies the blurred boundaries between wild, feral, tame, domestic, and civilized is one of the chief appeals of a Far Deep Future scenario.  The world may well be slowly dying, and humans will certainly be as flawed as ever, but we certainly won’t be alone.  Instead, we’ll be surrounded by a full panoply of species, megaflora to nanofauna.  Some of whom will work with us, more of whom will live with us, increasing numbers of which will live on or in us (stirges!), and still others will have evolved so that they are useless to us and avoid us completely.  And some will love us for what they get from us, whether or not we reciprocate their feelings.  Humans that survive into the deep future will be recognizably human, definitely understandable, but they won’t be us, and the world they live with will think we’re standoffish, isolated, and socially inept (wild even, feral at best) compared to them.

What did I miss?

 

 

 

 


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

As ever, thoughtful and inspiring.

Comment by AshleyRPollard

https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nph.15797
Insular woodiness in great detail. My inner 15 year old is slightly disappointed, though.

Comment by Moz in Oz

On a slightly shorter timeline than the deepest of this deep time, in about 1.5 million years a star will make a close approach at slow velocity only a fifth of a light year out. The star is more massive than 80% of stars (so something like half as massive as the sun), moving particularly slowly, and coming rather close. As such, it may launch a comet storm stronger than any seen in the last one or two two hundred million years into the inner solar system. During this approach, it’ll be twice as bright as Sirius is in the sky right now. A reasonably sized impact may be in the relatively near future for us.

See:

https://www.aanda.org/articles/aa/abs/2016/11/aa29835-16/aa29835-16.html

https://arxiv.org/abs/1805.02644

Comment by Tony

Thanks for the comments far! Sorry to disappoint, Moz. Some pleasures are more cerebral than others…

Comment by Heteromeles

Thinking about it, there’s an interesting way to think about human diversity in a time when animals have coevolved with humans for a very long time. Right now, some people who are “on the spectrum” are better at relating to animals than other people on “other parts of the spectrum.” For someone as culturally clumsy as myself, there’s a need to tiptoe around this a bit, because things like autism seem to be a cloud of different talents and deficits on many, many dimensions. What I’m thinking about isn’t only found in autistic people, but it’s often linked to it, rightly or wrongly.

In a deep future of extremely clever animals, one can posit a spectrum with different talents and deficits with how different species communicate. At one end of the spectrum there are the people who are far more comfortable dealing with the non-verbal world of some (or many) animal species. These people are extremely uncomfortable with the complexity and contingent artificiality of human culture. They live as outsiders on the edge. On the other end, there are people who are just as obsessively into all the endless intricacies of human culture, who struggle with even picking up the signals that animals use, let alone dealing with animals as anything other than dumb humans in furry costumes. Then there are people at every place on the “spectrum” between the two.

The point that occurred to me is that everyone on any part of this spectrum will have advantages and struggles, just as we all do now. Some people are “people-blind,” some people are “animal-blind,” and many are aware enough to know how much they are missing, not truly comfortable in either world, but amphibious in the original “both sides” meaning. With millennia, eons, of coevolution between humans and animals, the differences in how people deal with other species will become a fundamental and critical force in organizing societies. It might even become an important evolutionary selective force, to the degree that “the spectrum” is heritable.

And of course, every animal will have an analog of the same spectrum. It will manifest, in social species, as behavioral diversity: individuals who spend most of their energy on social interactions with others of the same species, the loners on the edge who are more comfortable in the company of other species, including humans. And everything in between.

It’s a trope that’s been told many times in SFF, usually with telepathic links between the humans and animals. Thing is, we know enough about behavioral diversity and neurodiversity to tell these kinds of stories without invoking psychic talents. You don’t need to psychic skills to pick up others’ signals, but it can feel like psychic talents exist when we interact with other people who are much better at picking up subtle signals than we are. It’s just that the world has so very many signals in it that when you focus on some, others become unintelligible.

Comment by Heteromeles

Overall, a very interesting post.

If our relationship with animals becomes even more social, basically making pets of more species, wonder what impact this would have on human nutrition. Not sure that plants (grains & produce) alone could sustain us healthily esp. the B vitamins which happen to be crucial for a healthy human nervous system. Currently, vegetarians/vegans can stay healthy on their meat-free diets because many of the processed foods that they do eat have nutrients added to them. If civilization fails, then a grain-based diet would actually slow down humans’ ability to rebuild civilization.

I didn’t follow the links so maybe my questions are redundant. If yes, let me know. Thanks!

Comment by SFReader

Yes, that’s a good point, but that’s not quite what I was getting at.

Animals pay attention to each others’ social signals, but they understand them to different degrees. The best example is the difference between the way dogs understand humans and wolves understand humans. Wolves are at least as intelligent as dogs in terms of socializing with each other and with problem-solving. However, dogs are much, much better at understanding human social signals, in part because they’ve been under a hundreds to thousands of years of selective pressure to understand us. In other words, the dogs that understood humans probably left behind more offspring than those who did not. Wolves have to work a lot harder to understand us, which is why they’re not great pets and take a lot of training to live even marginal lives in human society.

What I’m simply suggesting is that, like modern dogs, horses, cats, rabbits, cows, pigs, chickens, pigeons, and so forth, animals in the future will go through periods where the majority of the species lives in close contact with humans. As a result, the ones that survive are the ones that can understand us better, and they pass on this trait to their offspring. Their descendants in the deep future may be wild, feral, or whatever, but they’re likely to still understand us a lot better than wild animals do now.

Then there’s that whole “pet” word that I’ve been avoiding. Pets have a variety of relationships with humans. Some are working animals, like guide dogs. In biological terms, they’re definitely mutualists (meaning both the dogs and humans benefit from the relationship). However, many pets are effectively parasites (they benefit by getting fed and cared for by us, but we don’t get fed and cared for by them). Now at this point, people inevitably bring up the various psychological benefits of owning pets. Those are quite probably there, but they’re tricky to measure. When scientists look at things like parasitism, they tend to look at measurable things like what animals eat (do we feed them or do they feed us?) and fitness (do animals have more offspring when they’re pets, and do pet owners have more offspring…or fewer?).

Emotions get tricky, and the great example is social parasitism. This phenomenon is best studied in ants, where dozens if not hundreds of insect species have “hacked” ant communication systems, meaning they smell and sound like the the larvae of the ants they parasitize, so the ants care for them as if they were ant larvae. The critical point is that the ants select for parasites that more perfectly mimic baby ants, by caring more for the better parasites, even when this means the ants raise fewer of their own young (or in some cases, the parasites eat ant eggs and larvae). We have no idea whether the ants are getting emotional satisfaction from raising their social parasites, but they’re getting their “ooh, baby, care for it!” buttons mashed, and they’re selecting the ones that mash those buttons harder.

Humans do the same thing with cute pets, treating them like human infants (Ooooh, they’re so adorable!!!). To pick one example, I tend to think that the miniature dog breeds that have been deliberately bred to be more like puppies or even human children are social parasites, selected the same way as ants select their parasites. And when a human says they have “fur babies,” or a veterinarian refers to a pet owner as the animal’s “parent,” that’s the language of social parasitism, just like ants. Now I’m not against this, because yes, fur babies provide a lot of emotional comfort to their “human parents.” But if a human cares for an animal as a substitute offspring, and as a result that human does not reproduce, that pet, nutritionally and in an evolutionary sense, is acting as a social parasite.

I talk about this in Hot Earth Dreams and in this scenario, but pets acting as social parasites is only one part of the wide range of ways animals can “hack” their way into human social communications for their own benefit. Other ways they can deal with us:
–They can become better physical parasites, like fleas and ticks.
–They can become better commensals (species that live in our homes, like silverfish, cockroaches, mice, and spiders)
–They can become better at being food animals (they have more offspring, but most of those offspring die to feed humans)
–They can become better at taking human food (crop raiders, crop pests, and so forth)
–They can become better at working with humans (working animals, guide dogs, and so forth)
–They can become better at avoiding humans (as prey animals that are skittish around humans do)
–They can become better at preying on humans (think feral dogs acting as human-specialist wolves).
–They can become increasingly useless to humans (like superweeds, not good for anything, but impossible to kill off, like coyotes and kudzu)

The point is that, in large chunks of the world, humans have had it relatively easy in past centuries, because the plants and animals we encountered had never met us before and were vulnerable to being exploited. In many cases they went extinct, either as a direct result of being wiped out by humans, or indirectly by being replaced by plants and animals that could deal better with human impacts. Going forward, especially with a human-caused extinction event, more of the species that survive will be able to deal with humans in one of the ways mentioned above. Go through intense selection events over and over and over again through millions of years, and the surviving organisms will go through their entire species histories dealing with humans.

That doesn’t mean they’ll all be pets, pests, or food. Rather it means that we will have more complex relationships with them. Domestic animals will be close symbionts, we’ll have more parasitic species that specialize on humans (social or traditional), game species will be harder to catch, predators may become more dangerous, weeds harder to kill, more species may take advantage of human-caused fires, and so on. The result will be that the whole notion of civilization as separate from nature will be totally irrelevant in a future where transient civilizations have shaped nature for hundreds of millions of years.

Comment by Heteromeles

Will Baker portrayed something strikingly like this in his novel Shadow Hunter. Does fleeing in an elaborate pattern to protect the bucks in their midst from hunters’ radar, prairie dogs cooperating with a pair of humans to sabotage a truck convoy, humans communing and forming an odd religious relationship with bees, and so on.

Comment by Maureen Lycaon

Re: ‘ … ants select for parasites that more perfectly mimic baby ants,..’

Interesting and maybe some pay-back for ants’ treatment of aphids? Had a cherry tree in the backyard and used to watch the ants shepherd (direct) the aphids. No idea how this relationship might be impacted by climate change.

The species I’d really keep an eye on is the raccoon: deft paws, persistent – able to open even raccoon-proof garbage cans, can eat just about everything, climbs, digs and its somewhat collapsible ribs allow them to crawl into small spaces. A very adaptable now mostly urbanized critter. There was a family or two in the neighbor hood and they’d often travel right through my back yard. Together with the robins they could pick a large cherry tree clean within a couple of days. (I think the cherries made them drunk – they’d eat to the point of falling out of the tree, sometimes during the day.)

Comment by SFReader




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