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Author Topic: Are humans the most successful species?  (Read 16940 times)

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Are humans the most successful species?
« on: 02/03/2009 20:01:49 »
A trailer for a TV program said that humans are the most successfiul species on the planet. I would contend that there are other species that are more successfiul. Take ants, for instance. They are found in vast numbers in almost every environment and I believe they have been around a lot longer than humans.

I appreciate it would depend largely on one's definition of successful, but I would like to read your thoughts on this.


 

Offline Don_1

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #1 on: 03/03/2009 09:11:38 »
I would agree with you on that Doctor Beaver.

Man is the most successful animal on the planet in his field. Put man in water, and we just don't measure up to the success of Dolphins or Sharks. Jump off a cliff with a set of wings tied to our arms and flap vigorously - result, we plummet to the ground. Not quite the Albatross are we.

For centuries man has done battle with Locusts, Aphids, Cockroaches and Rats are we winning? No.

My shelled friends (Tortoises) have survived 200 million years and through many mass extinctions, including one of the greatest which was responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs. Will man still be around in 200 million years time?

I think 'success' can only be measured within a certain group or species. We can say 'we are the most successful Ape', but the Shark is the most successful predatory fish. The Tortoise may be the most successful reptile, the Bee the most successful pollinting insect.

I think man tends to praise himself on his successes all too often, we should look more to our failings and try to correct them.
 

blakestyger

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #2 on: 03/03/2009 09:25:25 »
Insects are very successful and so are bacteria, particularly cyanobacteria where some species have remained morphologically unaltered since they first appear in the fossil record about 3.5 billion years ago - they became ecological generalists early on and evolved mostly through genetic drift rather than the more drastic selection processes associated with the 'higher' multicellular species.

I'd consider success in this context to be the ability to survive fairly severe environmental changes but it clearly has other meanings when brain development enters the argument. We are very successful at environmental manipulation in which I would put building, agriculture, extraction and use of elements and minerals as well as space exploration.
But the downside is that we are not generalists - relying on other species, we cannot synthesise our own food and it's only our widespread distribution that will save us from extinction should there be massive changes to the environment either through our own actions or some outside agent like a meteor strike.
There is a good atricle in last week's New Scientist on the likely outcomes if the Earth warms by an average 40C over the next century. If this happens we will survive but will be severely relegated.
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #3 on: 03/03/2009 14:25:58 »
Don & blakestyger - you both make interesting points with which I concur.

We are the only technological species and the only one that can manipulate our environment (up to a point); but I don't believe that makes us the most successful species except in those 2 areas.

Don - You said that you consider tortoises to be the most successful reptiles. What about crocodilia? Have they been around as long as tortoises? They have certainly remained largely unchanged for a few million years and are the top predators in their environments.
« Last Edit: 03/03/2009 14:31:08 by DoctorBeaver »
 

Offline Karsten

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #4 on: 03/03/2009 14:49:16 »
Don't listen to what they say on TV!
 

Offline Madidus_Scientia

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #5 on: 03/03/2009 15:36:39 »
I once heard that there is more weight in ants on the earth than there is humans. Don't know if it's true but i'd believe it
 

lyner

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #6 on: 03/03/2009 18:42:04 »
The whole of life is, actually, based on co-existence. Predators and prey cannot succeed without each other, for instance. Too many game would overgraze the plants and, by eating a proportion of them, the predators are, in fact, helping the situation for the herbivores.
It is a whole  ecology which may or may not be successful - not an individual species.
The hermit crab and the anemone; which one is the success?

I guess the only real criterion for  'success' would be how resilient an ecological system is to drastic changes of circumstance. We may find out about that before too long. . . . .
« Last Edit: 03/03/2009 18:43:39 by sophiecentaur »
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #7 on: 03/03/2009 19:43:50 »
If you pick the right definition of successful you can make this a really odd concept.
For example, potatoes are enormously successful because they have trained humans to ensure that the potato is widely grown and will not become extinct if we can help it.
That makes the humble spud very successful.
 

Offline JP

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« Reply #8 on: 03/03/2009 20:19:29 »
We're probably the best at making other species unsuccessful, by driving them to extinction.  Is that a definition of success?
 

Offline Don_1

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #9 on: 04/03/2009 08:20:53 »
BC What an ingenious twist on the meaning of success!

jpetruccelli I couldn't agree with you more.

Dr Beaver Your estimation of the Crocodilians is quite correct. The T. Rex is said to have been the top predatory dinosaur. But surely, as the crocodilians have out-lived them by around 100 million years, that should make them the top dinosaur predator. Tortoises would therefore be the top dinosaur herbivore.

I said in my post "We can say 'we are the most successful Ape'", but are we? In our environment, maybe, but put a man into the Chimps environment and the man will be woefully lacking.

Perhaps we should say that all life is the most successful in it's own environment, otherwise it wouldn't exist. Isn't that what natural selection is all about?
 

Offline dentstudent

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #10 on: 04/03/2009 09:08:22 »
If you pick the right definition of successful you can make this a really odd concept.
For example, potatoes are enormously successful because they have trained humans to ensure that the potato is widely grown and will not become extinct if we can help it.
That makes the humble spud very successful.

This is the selfish gene concept from Dawkins, yes?
 

Offline dentstudent

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« Reply #11 on: 04/03/2009 09:13:13 »
Perhaps, instead of "successful", we should say the humans are the most "adaptable". There are many species that are very highly adapted to their specific niche, but change that niche only slightly, and the species can become very quickly extinct, because they are not highly adaptable. Because humans have a technological advantage, we are able to live in environments to which we are otherwise not at all adapted, but can adapt to them.

What do you think?
 

blakestyger

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #12 on: 04/03/2009 10:00:36 »
I once heard that there is more weight in ants on the earth than there is humans. Don't know if it's true but i'd believe it

You are right Madidus_Scientia but for the highest biomass on Earth - the prize goes to Viruses. [:0]
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #13 on: 04/03/2009 10:04:11 »
Perhaps, instead of "successful", we should say the humans are the most "adaptable". There are many species that are very highly adapted to their specific niche, but change that niche only slightly, and the species can become very quickly extinct, because they are not highly adaptable. Because humans have a technological advantage, we are able to live in environments to which we are otherwise not at all adapted, but can adapt to them.

What do you think?

Good point well made.
 

Offline Damo the Optics Monkey

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #14 on: 04/03/2009 10:21:48 »
Perhaps, instead of "successful", we should say the humans are the most "adaptable". There are many species that are very highly adapted to their specific niche, but change that niche only slightly, and the species can become very quickly extinct, because they are not highly adaptable. Because humans have a technological advantage, we are able to live in environments to which we are otherwise not at all adapted, but can adapt to them.

What do you think?

Good point well made.

I totally agree - look at the words associated with 'success' such as adaptable and resilient (and a lot more), and try to assign species, groups and ecsystems to them
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #15 on: 04/03/2009 10:22:05 »
If you pick the right definition of successful you can make this a really odd concept.
For example, potatoes are enormously successful because they have trained humans to ensure that the potato is widely grown and will not become extinct if we can help it.
That makes the humble spud very successful.

This is the selfish gene concept from Dawkins, yes?

Interesting concept.

Dawkin's idea of the selfish gene is that "...the genes that get passed on are the ones whose consequences serve their own implicit interests (to continue being replicated), not necessarily those of the organism, much less any larger level."

This theory tries to explain why altruistic efforts (also referred to as "unsolicited prosociality" - don't you just love technical psychological terms!  :D ) are more likely to be directed at one's own kin rather than towards others. In that way one is helping to ensure that one's own genes survive in preference to those of friends or strangers.

Do potatoes display such altruistic tendencies? Does a potato care whether its own genes are propogated rather than those of potatoes in general? Do potatoes, as they are carried towards the chip pan, cry out "Take me but let my progeny live!". I would argue that they passively accept whatever fate lies in store for them and, as such, do not display such traits.
 

Offline Damo the Optics Monkey

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« Reply #16 on: 04/03/2009 10:34:03 »
Thinkng about potatoes having those tendencies has made my crisp eatig experience a tad surreal.

One other thing are the plants - so many of them have been around for a long time.
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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« Reply #17 on: 04/03/2009 10:36:45 »
Thinkng about potatoes having those tendencies has made my crisp eatig experience a tad surreal.


Eating too many crisps adversely affects one's ability to spell words correctly (FOG)

Incidentally, what flavour crisps do you get in Japan? Tofu? Teriyaki? Raw fish?  ;D
« Last Edit: 04/03/2009 10:42:31 by DoctorBeaver »
 

Offline Damo the Optics Monkey

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« Reply #18 on: 04/03/2009 10:45:31 »
LOL

we get every flavor you cn imagine - we even had pumpkin flavoured kit kats and yoghurt flavoured pepsi
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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« Reply #19 on: 04/03/2009 13:58:52 »
we even had pumpkin flavoured kit kats and yoghurt flavoured pepsi

 [xx(]
 

lyner

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #20 on: 04/03/2009 23:42:16 »
If you pick the right definition of successful you can make this a really odd concept.
For example, potatoes are enormously successful because they have trained humans to ensure that the potato is widely grown and will not become extinct if we can help it.
That makes the humble spud very successful.
And the tobacco plant!
 

Offline Bored chemist

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« Reply #21 on: 05/03/2009 20:18:35 »
Not to mention papaver somniferum and a bunch of others; good point.
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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« Reply #22 on: 05/03/2009 20:33:20 »
Somehow I don't think that papaver somniferum can be a contributing factor to the success of the human race  :D
 

lyner

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« Reply #23 on: 05/03/2009 23:30:48 »
No. It's quite the other way round!
 

Offline damiri

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Are humans the most successful species?
« Reply #24 on: 10/03/2009 15:49:04 »
The most "successful" living organisms on the planet got to be bacteria. (someone mentioned viruses but they are not usually considered to be alive).

I just can't think of another animal that is spread out to as many places or adapted to as many conditions.

D
 

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