I read an interesting paper today, titled “Dire wolves were the last of an ancient new world canid lineage” by Frantz et al. Having only heard of dire wolves in badly written fiction about really good looking vampires, I did not even know that these creatures actually existed in real life.
On reading the paper, I realized that dire wolves did actually exist, but became extinct in North America about 13,000 years ago. Grey wolves, on the other hand, survive and thrive to this day. The authors explain that both dire wolves and grey wolves had similar diets 20,000 years ago. They ate large fauna. However, when large fauna slowly disappeared from the North American landmass, grey wolves could adapt to these changes and change their diet to include smaller animals, whilst dire wolves could not. Hence, the former continue to thrive while the latter went extinct thousands of years ago.
This made me think of a blogpost that I’d written on Why is Chlorophyll Green? After doing some complex network analysis, the authors conclude that leaves are not green because this color allows them to maximize energy input, or even minimize energy waste, etc. Is it not the “best” color for any clear criterion. However, evolution has made leaves green because it is the most reliable color. When sunlight or other conditions change, green continues to produce a steady stream of energy for the plant, whilst other colors are prone to failure in such changing conditions.
Evolution, it seems, favors traits that continue to produce results with changing times and conditions. There is a pretty useful life lesson in there somewhere.