Monday, February 1, 2010

Ais: Survivors of the Sixth Extinction

Markus Bühler of Bestiarium and I have been working on a project that has just been made public:

As the web address indicates, ours is a speculative evolution project, a topic which has been most recognizably covered by the TV program The Future is Wild and the works of Dougal Dixon. Spec evolution has a rising profile and has even influenced the bestiary of Peter Jackson's King Kong and possibly Avatar. I feel that the finest example of this genre to date is The Speculative Dinosaur Project, which created a vivid and incredibly well thought-out world where the most famous extinction in history never occurred. While there have been a few spec evolution projects involving the fauna of the future, I feel that ours will be a justifiably unique take on things. I shall not discuss the scenario that has occurred, but perhaps these song lyrics will give some impression:

If there's one thing you can say
About Mankind
There's nothing kind about man
You can drive out nature with a pitch fork
But it always comes roaring back again
- Tom Waits, Misery is the River of the World

Speculating about an unspecified date in the not-too-distance future allows for our project to comment on current events. For instance, the Longsnout Copotone is a descendant of invasive Pterygoplichthys species, which proved to be an unstoppable force in the future and one of the most specious vertebrate clades ever. You might recall that I discussed the present status of those invaders here. Also of note is that marine ecosystems have incredible numbers of jellyfish controlled by highly-specialized predators. One philosophy behind this project is that the present influences of man will have lasting effects beyond quarries and removed mountain tops. At the same time, life is a remarkably resilient thing which can recover from near-apocalyptic scenarios, and the diversity of Ais will be considerably greater than the present region it is derived from. It is worth noting that one species is suspiciously absent from the landscape...

This project also intends to give animals other than mammals and birds a chance in the spotlight, as they have been cast to the side in other spec evolution projects. We will also avoid the "hey wouldn't it be neat if _____ evolved into _____ ?" type of scenario and create justifiable extrapolations. While the Longsnout Copotone appears to be a lazy example of the former, it needs to be pointed out that large loricariids are already fully capable of feeding on molluscs and crustaceans (e.g. Acanthicus adonis), so the only steps needed to evolve into a obligate-molluscivore would be an increased crushing ability, modified digestive system, and increased salt tolerance. It is worth noting that another clade of armored, benthic fishes has produced a sturgeon-like species (Podothecus accipenserinus) with actual sturgeon species already present in its region! As suggested by the common name, the Longsnout Copotone is the only species of 'molluscivorous loricariid' which is sturgeon-like, with the others having taken other approaches.

Anyways, enough cross promotion - be sure the check on Ais on the first of every month!


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Rich said...

Hahaha. I kept imagining "Artificial Intelligence" and scenes from Terminator when I first saw your blog. And, then, when you kept speaking of biological speculative evolution, I shrugged my mental shoulders and guessed you were hinting at cybernetics. Hahaha. It took me a bit to realize that I was quite mistaken about things ;-)

And how does speculative evolution "inform" Peter Jackson's King Kong? I'd say "misinform" rather.

Cameron McCormick said...

Who's to say there isn't a Terminator scenario at play here? :p

The "World of Kong" book explored the fauna of Skull Island in detail and offered explanation for why the dinosaurs differed from their ancestors and where those apes came from. They had a Limusaurus (a fat amphibian instead of a theropod) and flightless marabou storks, which have actually been subsequently discovered. The carrion-parrots were pretty good, as the Kea already does that to some degree. At the same time, the mixture of pelycosaurs, cynodonts, phytosaurs, rauisuchians, dinosaurs, apes, and so forth is really really fucking crazy.

February 3, 2010 12:06:0