A new paradigm for evolution: Does the flow of energy determine the rate of evolutionary change?
Dr Shane Wright (Te Āti Hau, Tūwharetoa) is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Auckland. The idea for this research project started to form in his twenties, when he was travelling the world as a gofer for science teams and noticed how plant diversity changed with altitude.
He returned to New Zealand and it wasn’t until many years later having completed his PhD he could turn his attention to his true interest: energy, area and the rate of evolution. He picked up on the ideas of Rohde, who proposed that evolution has spatial polarity, but had been largely ignored by the science community. Dr Wright, with funding from Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, then set about to test this hypothesis.
He compared similar plants that live in different natural environments, and found those in warmer climates grew more rapidly. They have a faster rate of metabolism, leading to more genetic variations, and pass on genetic changes through generations more quickly. He found the same patterns in mammal and amphibian evolution – those in lower altitudes and warmer climates had faster metabolic rates. This implies that, rather than occurring in an unstructured and diffuse way, evolution is spatially ordered according to energetically and areally determined polarities. Therefore, the history of life could be not solely expressed as a time sequence, but also to have an expression in space.
Dr Wright says without the initial support from NPM, he would have struggled to start this research project because it was such a contentious theory. Yet his work has gone on to be published in a number of prominent journals, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, and continues to work on his theory today looking at the role of alpha animals.
- Wright, S., Keeling, J., Gillman, L. (2006) The road from Santa Rosalia: A faster tempo of evolution in tropical climates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 103;7718-7722. http://www.pnas.org/content/103/20/7718.abstract
- Gillman, L., Wright, S. (2006) The influence of productivity on the species richness of plants: A Critical Assessment. Ecology, 87(5), pp. 1234–1243. http://noss.cos.ucf.edu/papers/Gillman%20and%20Wright%202006.pdf