Posts Tagged ‘species extinction’

Manliness has more than halved in western men since 1973

July 26, 2017

There is a new paper, a meta-review, receiving much attention.

The manliness of western men has more than halved between 1973 and 2011. It reports a significant ongoing decline in sperm concentration and sperm counts of Western men. It seems that “between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in perm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand ….  In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa.”

Being a meta-review this study does not shed light on the causes of this drastic decline in the manliness of western men. It speculates that this may be due to chemicals or lifestyle or smoking or obesity or pesticides or some other factor. This speculation is just speculation and smoking or pesticide use would have caused stronger effects in Asia. They are quite right, however, in not following the sheep and including global warming as a possible cause. However they seem to be ignoring some other relevant factors.

I am inclined to think that the decrease of manliness among western men sounds more like a psychological reaction to political trends. Western society just values “manliness” much less than it used to. So other factors which probably need to be considered include:

  1. the increase of gender ambiguity
  2. the decrease in men’s social status
  3. the decline of political leadership in the west,
  4. the spread of political indecisiveness,
  5. the decline of corporal punishment in schools,
  6. the decline of femininity

It stands to reason that if gender difference is eliminated then sperm count and concentration will also decline. It follows that eliminating gender difference will result in the elimination of reproduction and species extinction.

Hagai Levine et al. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update. DOI: 10.1093/humupd/dmx022

MedicalXpress writes:  ….. between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in perm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand ….  In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa. ….. The study also indicates the rate of decline among Western men is not decreasing: the slope was steep and significant even when analysis was restricted to studies with sample collection between 1996 and 2011. ….. 

While declines in sperm count have been reported since 1992, the question has remained controversial because of limitations in past studies. However, the current study uses a broader scope and rigorous meta-regression methods, conservatively addresses the reliability of study estimates, and controls for factors that might help explain the decline such as age, abstinence time, and selection of the study population.

“Given the importance of sperm counts for male fertility and human health, this study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count, with the goal of prevention,” said Dr. Hagai Levine, the lead author and Head of the Environmental Health Track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Medicine.

The findings have important public health implications. First, these data demonstrate that the proportion of men with sperm counts below the threshold for subfertility or infertility is increasing. Moreover, given the findings from recent studies that reduced sperm count is related to increased morbidity and mortality, the ongoing decline points to serious risks to male fertility and health.

“Decreasing sperm count has been of great concern since it was first reported twenty-five years ago. This definitive study shows, for the first time, that this decline is strong and continuing. The fact that the decline is seen in Western countries strongly suggests that chemicals in commerce are playing a causal role in this trend,” Dr. Shanna H Swan, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

While the current study did not examine causes of the observed declines, sperm count has previously been plausibly associated with environmental and lifestyle influences, including prenatal chemical exposure, adult pesticide exposure, smoking, stress and obesity. Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impact of the modern environment on male health across the lifespan and serve as a “canary in the coal mine” signaling broader risks to male health.

It also follows that western men pose less of a risk to women looking for promiscuity, but that western women who wish to have children have a better chance with men having a higher level of manliness.


 

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“Animal conservation” in zoos is anti-evolutionary and probably immoral

February 27, 2014

The case of Marius the giraffe murdered recently at Copenhagen Zoo has led to more attention to the function of zoos, their supposed “conservation” efforts and their breed-and-cull policies. There is an aura of “goodness” around “animal conservation” which is quite unjustified. As practised today, animal conservation in zoos is anti-evolutionary and borders on the immoral.

I enjoy visiting some zoos (though there are many which are merely collections of psychotic animals) and I enjoyed taking my children to some zoos. It was primarily for entertainment and – as with all entertainment – offered some opportunities for learning. But I cannot subscribe to the politically correct notion that zoos are places where some animal species are being “saved” from extinction. At best they are places where some species, which are on the verge of extinction because they have failed to adapt or evolve to cope with their environments, are frozen into an artificial existence in quite unsuitable habitats for the purpose of entertaining visitors. Such species are not helped to change – genetically or otherwise – to be able to survive by themselves in a changing world. Conservation is taken be a “good thing” but consists only of preserving the animals and their current genes. If left to themselves they would still fail to survive. The animals are bred and over-bred such that healthy specimens must then be culled. That is stagnation not evolution. Zoos are just places for human entertainment and very little else – and there is nothing wrong with that. But they do not deserve any halo of “goodness” for their “conservation”.

To truly help a species to survive requires helping them to breed and evolve such that their survival characteristics are improved. But “conservation” today consists of creating living fossils which are incapable of surviving without human intervention. It is taking a frozen snap-shot of the species and its genes. That is fundamentally anti-evolutionary. I have written on this theme before (Genetic adaptation not stagnating conservation is the way to help threatened species),

Conservation – as stagnation – is not sustainable.  Trying to prevent change is a futile exercise. It is change which is the fundamental characteristic of life. It is managing change and even designing change which is a particular strength of the human species. It is human ingenuity at work. It is time to give thought to how we can help the species around us evolve into the neo-species which can cope with the changes which are inevitable.

This BBC article today only reinforces my view that so-called “animal conservation” in zoos is just show business and has nothing whatever to do with helping endangered species to survive.

How many healthy animals do zoos put down?

When Copenhagen Zoo put down a healthy male giraffe earlier this month, much of the world was horrified. But those in the know say it’s quite normal – a fate that befalls thousands of zoo animals across Europe every year. ….. 

It’s often hard to get any information, but the 340 zoos that belong to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) must sign up to the organisation’s various breeding programmes, and for each species in the programme there is a studbook – a kind of inventory which records every animal’s birth, genetic make-up, and death.

EAZA does not publish these records or advertise the number of healthy animals that have been culled, but executive director Dr Leslie Dickie estimates that somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 animals are “management-euthanised” in European zoos in any given year. …… 

…….. Four German zookeepers were also prosecuted in 2010 for culling three tiger cubs at Magdeburg Zoo “without reasonable cause” (though the EAZA judged the step “entirely reasonable and scientifically valid“). ….

… The EAZA Yearbook 2007/2008 (the latest publicly available edition) states clearly that a “breed and cull” policy should be followed for some animals, like the pygmy hippopotamus.

Surpluses are a problem with a number of species, including monkeys and baboons, it notes. ….

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Genetic adaptation – not stagnating conservation – is the way to help threatened species

October 26, 2013

If the big cats, or elephants or giraffes or pandas want to survive into the distant future they need to evolve. The changes taking place in their environment and in their loss of habitat are happening too fast for natural selection to throw up the genetic changes needed for long term survival. As long as humans remain the dominant species in their environment they will need to come to terms with that – genetically. Conventional conservation efforts are fundamentally flawed. They are backwards looking. They try to preserve these species – as they are – in artificially protected habitats which are frozen in time, which remain unchanged while the world around them changes. Conservation attempts to freeze these species and thereby lock them into the non-viable position they have found themselves in. This is not going to help them to continue into the future, except as an unsuccessful species. It is paradoxical that unsuccessful species are subject to conservation efforts and successful species get labelled as pests.

Much of the rapid change to the environments for these species is a consequence of the success of humanity as a species. Trying to keep a species unchanged and stagnating in a changing world seems to me to be irresponsible. And creating  little protected bubbles of habitat – whether in a reserve or a zoo can only be a short term measure. Domesticated animals are at little risk of extinction as long as humans thrive. Their success is inextricably linked with the human species and they have been adapted genetically to be what they are today. They are not allowed to breed freely or indiscriminately and that is the genetic price they pay. But their survival is assured – at least as long as humans thrive and maybe even beyond.

‘There are many more “urbanised” species which have through a natural – but environmentally coerced or forced – selection adapted genetically to have the traits which allow them to be successful in  the human-dominated environments they find themselves in. Foxes, bears, wolves, badgers and even the polar bears of Churchill have evolved and adapted to survive in human dominated environments. But they generally live surreptitious lives in the shadow of man. They have not found a sustainable position  as yet. An increasing number of birds have adapted their behaviour (presumably also by genetic changes) to take advantage of human behaviour. They have learned to live in and around our cities, to take advantage of our agricultural and harvesting habits and to use our waste streams as their food source. Even in the water, there are fish species which succeed because of the changes brought about by man. Many insects – be they cockroaches or spiders or mosquitoes, or termites – now know how to take advantage of man-made environments. At the microbial or viral level, species are not much concerned by the changes wrought by humans and continue their merry way.

Now in this new age of DNA analysis and intentional selection of genes I think it is time for Conservation to move away from merely trying to “freeze” species in an artificially protected environment and to move into a pro-active phase where humans actually help threatened species to continue into the future. This does not mean that the neo-species that appear must necessarily be domesticated or in the service of humans but it does mean that they must share the same habitat and be able to co-exist. If they require a specialised habitat which is likely to disappear or change due to man or for any other reason, they are destined to eventually go extinct. Putting such species into zoos or other artificially maintained or otherwise protected habitats only preserves an obsolete species in a temporary environment. Conventional conservation as it is practiced today goes down that route. And while it may provide a short term method for preserving the genes of such species, it is in an unsustainable form. It is a method which does no real service to such species.

Instead of trying to recreate the woolly mammoth for an environment which is totally unsuitable or of making futile attempts to preserve habitats for elephants so that they continue “unchanged”, it would be better if we considered how elephants – or the big cats – could be assisted along the evolutionary path such that they could find a natural and sustainable place in the brave new world that they now inhabit. For example, if neo-elephants were helped to evolve genetically such that their propensity to wander over very large areas reduced, or if they preferred certain kinds of trees and bushes and left others alone, or where their wanderings were more discerning and not as damaging to human crops, then herds of neo-elephants could find a sustainable place by the side of humanity.

Perhaps Siberian neo-tigers could be evolved genetically to help herd reindeer and develop a mutually beneficial partnership with man. An occasional reindeer kill would then be quite acceptable. It would be so much more contructive if neo-wolves were helped not to stagnate genetically, but instead to evolve the behavioural characteristics that allowed them to find a way of co-existing with humans and human flocks of sheep. The idea of neo-dolphins who communicate with man and have a herding behaviour in the oceans which benefit both humans and themselves has long been a subject of science fiction. Our nearest primate cousins have to be helped to move on and not to stagnate into extinction. The pace of environmental change is much too fast for natural selection to throw up the individuals capable of survival. Instead a natural deselection of individuals incapable of surviving is taking place. Neo-gorillas and neo-chimpanzees will not appear without human intervention.

Conservation – as stagnation – is not sustainable.  Trying to prevent change is a futile exercise. It is change which is the fundamental characteristic of life. It is managing change and even designing change which is a particular strength of the human species. It is human ingenuity at work. It is time to give thought to how we can help the species around us evolve into the neo-species which can cope with the changes which are inevitable.

Fighting against species extinction is to deny evolution

February 27, 2013

I was reading an article today about the threat of extinction for leather-backed turtles and once again I started wondering as to why extinction of a species or a language or of an isolated tribe arouses moral outrage or is an emotional matter for so many people. I don’t want these turtles to become extinct just as I don’t want tigers or polar bears or pandas to become extinct. But this is purely an emotional reaction because each of these animals is attractive – to my human eye – in its own right. Outside of TV documentaries, zoos and safari parks I have never seen any of them. I don’t have the same reaction when I read that guinea worms or disease-carrying species of mosquitoes are being eradicated. “Good riddance” is then the predominating feeling that I have. Yet whether a mammal or a bacterium becomes extinct the genetic loss is about the same. That dinosaurs became extinct millions of years ago or even that humans killed off the dodo or the thylacine or the Javan tiger in more recent times arouses some feelings of regret but not any moral outrage or much emotional response from me. The article about the turtles – like most other articles about the extinction of species  – is permeated with the politically correct assumption that extinction would be a “bad thing”. But I never see properly addressed the question as to why the extinction of a species is a “bad thing”.

This is essentially a value-judgement and is taken for granted and yet – in the rational plane – I can only conclude that there is nothing “unnatural” about this. In fact it is this emotional desire that species considered “attractive” should not become extinct when their time is due that is irrational. Normal or natural evolution is always a result of change. It is the result of species responding to change where the individuals of a species most suited to the changed circumstances continue and reproduce. Where the variety existing within a species is insufficient to provide any individuals who can survive and reproduce in the changed environment, the species dies out. It is said that about 90% of all species that have ever lived have become extinct. If they had not there would be no room for the 10% that exist today. Just as homo sapiens would never have evolved without the environmental changes which led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, most of the species alive today would not have succeeded their extinct ancestors if conditions had not led to their extinction. Where a species cannot compete with another – in whatever the prevailing circumstances – it dies out. It makes room for the more successful species.

Siberian Tiger Français : Tigre de sibérie Ita...

Siberian Tiger Français : (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what then is the objection to – say – tigers becoming extinct which is not just an emotional reaction to the disappearance of a magnificent but anachronistic creature?  The bio-diversity argument is not very convincing and is of little relevance. To artificially keep an unsuccessful species alive in a specially protected environment has no genetic value. It increases the mis-match between the existing environment and the genetic profile needed to survive in that environment. In fact the biodiversity argument is only relevant for “life” in general and never for any particular species or group of species.  It can serve to maintain a very wide range of genetic material in the event of a catastrophe such that some form of life has a chance of continuing. But given a particular environment biodiversity in itself is of little value.

Returning to the tiger as an example, the variety of individuals within the tiger population does not provide any which have the characteristics necessary for adapting to the reality of co-existing with humans in some form of urban living. Foxes, on the other hand, are evolving within our lifetimes. In a few more fox generations, urban foxes will out-compete their “wild” cousins who may well become extinct. But urban foxes will thrive. Many bird species and insects are throwing up the individuals to succeed in the shadow of the success of the human species. Bacteria and no doubt viruses are also throwing up their survivors. Some bacteria are changing faster than we would like. The polar bears who visit Churchill every year are evolving. Those who know how to forage in human communities have a distinct advantage over their less intelligent brethren. And of those who visit Churchill it is the ones who avoid attacking humans which have the best chance of surviving. (Polar bears are of course thriving and are in no danger of extinction – but that is another story). Langur and rhesus monkey troops in Delhi are in the process of becoming urbanised and “evolving” to succeed in their human-filled environment. These species are not domesticated. They are still wild but they are evolving – by selection – into new species suited to their new environment.

All those species which succeed into the future will be those which continue to “evolve” and have the characteristics necessary to thrive within the world as it is being shaped and changed by the most successful species that ever lived (though we cannot be sure how far some particular species of dinosaur may have advanced). Putting a tiger into a zoo or a “protected” environment actually only preserves the tiger in an “unsuccessful” form in an artificial environment. Does this really count as “saving the species”? We might be of more use to the future of the tiger species if we intentionally bred them to find a new space in a changed world  – perhaps as urban tigers which can co-exist with man.

If a polar bear were to hunt and kill a seal – even if it was the last individual of a seal species – it could be a matter of some regret but it would not generate any moral outrage. And then if the polar bears did not themselves adapt to find alternative food sources – then they too would fail to survive. The loss of a species can always be a matter of some regret but so is the death of any individual. Both are equally inevitable but the regret is mitigated by what comes after.

The thought occurs to me that while there is no doubt that human activity is altering the environment for many species, it is of little benefit to try and deny evolution. Species protection must consist of helping “threatened species”  to evolve and not in standing-still in some artificial environment.

Perhaps the answer is – for example – to breed and train a new species of Siberian tiger to manage vast reindeer herds where they could also be allowed to hunt and devour a few!

On biodiversity and conservation and the number of frog species

September 17, 2011

One of the politically correct and alarmist themes that pervades the conservation movement is that biodiversity is vital and is dangerously threatened. Generally biodiversity can be considered to include

  1. gene diversity within a particular species, and
  2. species diversity within some particular region
Sometimes having different ecosystems and environments within a particular region is also included as being a form of ecological biodiversity. Yet it has always been inexplicable to me as to why human intervention for the protection of a species which has been out-competed by other species is not considered unnatural and artificial. Extinction of species happens naturally as a consequence of natural selection and evolution as some species succeed and others fail. If species did not fail and become extinct there would be diminishing space for evolution of other species. More species are thought to have become extinct than are in existence today.
I find that there is a fundamental conflict between allowing evolution to happen naturally with successful species (and that includes humans) eliminating unsuccessful species and the conservationist view of interfering with this normal development in favour of artificially maintaining failed species.
Conservationism at heart is a conservative (with a small “c”) and backward looking philosophy trying to prevent development and evolution because of fear. I suppose that is why I find “conservationsim” unattractive – because it is based on fear subordinating actions and that – by definition – is cowardice. King Canute trying to hold back the tide!
As I have posted earlier: The problem is not only that we have not identified all the eukaryote species in existence (and about 1.3 million have been classified and named) but we have no idea whether the number in existence is to be measured in millions or in hundreds of millions. About 15,000 new species are identified and catalogued each year. If  Bacteria and Archaea are added to eukaryotes, the total number of species could be in the billions.
Vub night frog
And with so many species around why should humans interfere to protect some but not others. In fact some species are considered interlopers in some regions and then conservation is all about exterminating these.
We do not know how many frog species exist and new species are being “discovered” continuously. Species thought to have become extinct are rediscovered. Of course a “discovery” of a species has nothing to say about how long that species has been in existence. And the importance of any particular species to the future of humans and the environment humans survive and thrive in is an unknown unknown.
Wired  – which is a very politically correct on-line journal – reports that 12 New and 3 Lost Night-Frog Species Discovered in India. Researchers in India have found a dozen new frog species belonging to the night frog group, named for their nocturnal habits, and rediscovered three species, one of which had not been seen in nearly a century. The findings appeared in the journal Zootaxa on Sept. 15. …… half of the newly discovered species reproduce without any physical contact between the sexes, with the female depositing her eggs on a leaf and the males later fertilizing them.
All the frogs were spotted in a region known as the Western Ghats, a mountain range than runs along the western coast of India that has been identified as one of the ten hottest biodiversity hotspots in the world. Because of the small area they occupy, at least six of the new species are sensitive to habitat loss and will require immediate steps toward conservation.
I find the conclusion that “the new species are sensitive to habitat loss and will require immediate steps toward conservation”  illogical and inexplicable.
Why interfere?
Just the number of articles about frogs in Wired in recent times further deepens the mystery. It only demonstrates all we don’t know that we don’t know. Even if out of fear of what is to come, humans were to try and intervene and protect every discovered species, the intervention would still fail and would not return us to the time of the dinosaurs.

Conservationism – as an ism – has no clear purpose that I can see.

Some species extinction is necessary – and COP10 Nagoya is not

October 26, 2010

Species, like an ideal gas, expand to fill the space available to them. Most species – so far -have had a life of less than 10 million years though some (the living fossils) may exist for hundreds of millions of years. More species have become extinct over the years than are in existence today. It is stated that over 99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. The death of a species is nearly always due to competitive pressure from other species or by a change in their surrounding conditions that the species fails to adapt to. There have been at least 5 so-called mass extinctions over geological time — though in each case sufficient species remained so that evolution and development could continue in new directions. If the dinosaurs had not become extinct then man would probably never have evolved. If man ever does become extinct then it will surely provide the room for the possible development of some other species.

Any strategy to try and “guide” the future development of humankind must  – it seems to me – include for the expansion of the species  and cannot be based on the stagnation of the species. It is inevitable that less successful species will die out in the face of this competition. To merely conserve a species to continue its existence in a Zoo (and there is no nature reserve or wildlife park which is not ultimately just a zoo) without any room for the development or growth of that species may satisfy some deep seated aesthetic, human urge, but it is of no significance  in terms of development of either the species being protected or of the human species. Why then is there so much fuss about the possible extinction of some current species today?

Intentionally terminating a species merely for the sake of terminating that species ought then to be “wrong”. And so it is; except when mankind perceives that the quality of life of the human species is jeopardised by the existence of that other species. There are no qualms therefore in the eradication – or the attempted eradication – of parasites, viruses, bacteria or the tsetse fly or certain types of mosquitoes.

That it is desirable that tigers and lions or other species that are threatened by competition with humans continue to exist, is driven primarily by aesthetic values. If human aesthetics desire the preservation of such species in reservations, then that is perfectly allowable. But such “protected” species are effectively frozen in time and have no space for expansion or evolution. They are effectively removed from being active contributors to the “web of life”. Furthermore the dependence of man as a species on the diversity of other existing species is decreasing. As we increase the use of IVF, or genetically engineered crops, or animal-cloning or selective animal breeding programmes, the dependence of mankind on the ad hoc food-chains that exist is reduced. (I observe that the use of the words “natural” or “unnatural” here are meaningless. The intervention of humans in any “natural” process  is not more “unnatural” than breeding cows or creating over 200 breeds of dogs. Since humans are part of “nature” then anything humans do is – by definition – “natural”). As drugs – which may have first been extracted from some particular plants – are synthesised and tailored to meet human needs the dependence upon the plant species disappears.

The objectives of the Biodiversity conference currently being held in Nagoya are the most inconsequential platitudes which are irrational, unscientific and merely exhibit a “woolly” sentimentality.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has 3 main objectives:

  1. The conservation of biological diversity
  2. The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
  3. The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

What is not addressed at all is why the conservation (or more correctly the stagnation) of biological diversity is something to be desired and by which species. I take it as axiomatic that the ultimate beneficiary must be the human species – if not necessarily individual humans. (Here too I would observe that it is by ensuring benefits to individuals that we shall probably do the greatest good for the species). The conservation of a species for the sake of conservation is just as wrong as the extermination of a species for the sake of extermination.

The Convention states

As demographic pressures and consumption levels increase, biodiversity decreases, and the ability of the natural world to continue delivering the goods and services on which humanity ultimately depends may be undermined.

This would imply an acceptance that other species exist only to serve the human species. The conclusion then must be that if a species does not contribute to the supply of goods and services for man then it is redundant as a species. If such a redundant species becomes extinct it may be aesthetically displeasing but it is of no consequence for the advancement of the human species. The second objective “the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity” then means that as human ingenuity and intervention ensures the supply of goods and services needed (whether by farming techniques or fish farming or cattle and poultry breeding or by synthetic techniques), then other species which were contributing to such supply become redundant.

The 3rd objective regarding “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” has really nothing at all to do with the diversity of species and instead is an issue of distribution of the benefits of exploiting other species. For example, it is the issue of drug companies from developed countries extracting medicinal materials from plants only found in developing countries and of ensuring that monetary benefits also find their way to the country in which the plant grows. But once the medicinal materials can be synthesised the plant – as a species – becomes redundant.

Sometimes it is claimed that  biodiversity is needed to maintain the gene pool. But to what end do we need this gene pool where genes do not cross species boundaries? This makes no sense unless one is trying to ensure the evolution and development of replacement species once humans are extinct. It is also claimed at times that we know so little about the various interactions between species that it would be dangerous to allow any species to become extinct. But this is mere alarmism. Focusing on real benefits to humans in need of food or medicine or water or space would be much more constructive than harping on “not doing something” for fear of unknown and unquantifiable dangers.

The COP10 conference in Nagoya seems to be going the way of the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 – and that is probably a very good thing.

That the success of humans as a species is reducing the habitat for and the viability of other species is obvious.

That this is “unnatural” or undesirable is nonsensical.


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