As is my wont when prepping for trips, yesterday as I was packing all of my supplies, I had an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation playing in the background. I’m an aficionado. It’d be embarrassing to elaborate, but suffice it to say that I’ve seen all the episodes several times. I had somewhat randomly selected an episode from the second season and was merrily packing away when I heard this:
Imagine my surprise to hear Dr. Pulaski pre-empt the groundbreaking eco-evo paradigm shift by at least a decade and a half!
Here’s a little more context: In 2005, Nelson Hairston Jr. et al. published a terrific paper presenting the case for rapid evolution, and suggesting that the previous dichotomy between evolutionary timescales and ecological timescales is false – that the two processes can in fact occur contemporaneously. This led to several exciting predictions about the potential for feedbacks between ecological dynamics and evolutionary dynamics (Post and Palkovacs 2009), eventually synthesized by Thomas Schoener in a 2011 Science article.
That evolution is affected by a species’ ecology has been a mainstay of the discipline since Darwin’s time. That the process can happen in reverse, that is that a species’ evolution may feed back to affect its ecology, is an exciting hypothesis that serves as one of the conceptual cornerstones of the island-manipulation experiment I intend to initiate this summer.
So, back to Star Trek. As Dr. Pulaski was grappling with a mysterious virus that was causing her to barrel towards death by old age over the course of only a few tv-hours, her last Medical Officer’s Log started off with this somber announcement: “Just as changes in evolution are known to be caused by changes in the environment, we now know the process also works in reverse.” That remarkably prescient sentence, written in 1989, very closely mirrors language from the science articles first presenting that case 2 decades later.
Now I won’t stand by all the science in Star Trek (much as it pains me to say so, but you don’t have to look much further than Season 7 Episode 19: “Genesis”). Nonetheless, I do think this means I won’t be feeling as guilty watching sci-fi TV in the future, keeping my ears open for the next big scoop!
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